Volunteer Sandy Gellatly
Volunteer Sandy Gellatly works in June’s Kids Kloset last week in the Philomath Community Services building on South Ninth Street. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath Community Services has seen a lot in its 30 years as an incorporated organization through feeding families, clothing babies, delivering firewood, growing produce and providing children with holiday gifts.

As Jean Goul, board of directors president, and Kate Sundstrom, executive director, both point out, volunteers are responsible for the nonprofit organization’s success. It’s those contributions that will serve as the centerpiece for a special event to run from noon to 3 p.m. Sunday in Lupe’s Community Garden.

“We, for the past 30 years, have been nearly fully supported with volunteers and we need to make sure we recognize them and do a good job of retaining them through their recognition and making them feel valued,” Sundstrom said. “We have asked our program managers to identify what we call a shining star — a volunteer who they can rely on, who’s here time and time again and never complains about the amount of work that they do, and is a creative thinker as well. Those individuals will be recognized at the event.”

The number of active Philomath Community Services volunteers currently runs at around 75 but up to a few hundred each year lend a hand in some way, Sundstrom said. For example, organized work parties often bring in several beyond the regular volunteers.

Sunday’s open house celebration, which is open to all, will include a craft fair, grilled hot dogs, cupcakes and beginning at 12:30, tours of the building, which has been upgraded and reorganized in various ways over the past several months. PCS is located at 360 S. Ninth St.

The craft fair will serve as a sort of test project for organizers to see if that’s something to continue in the future. Plus, it could benefit some of those volunteers that sacrifice so much for the good of the organization.

“A lot of our crafters will be volunteers from here — so not only do they volunteer, they have this innate talent and that little hobby that they do can translate into some revenue for them,” Sundstrom said. “All of the proceeds will be given to the vendors … we’re not charging anything for the tables. We just want this to be a fun time for them to showcase what they have.”

Although PCS is celebrating 30 years — state records show the organization’s exact date of incorporation as Dec. 16, 1991 — some of the social services that are offered date back years earlier. The Philomath Food Bank can trace its roots back to Nancy Flegal, who started a food collection and dispersal agency in 1975 out of her trailer home. Flegal also established a baby bank but time constraints forced her to focus on the food bank, which she continued until age 89.

Philomath Community Services building
Philomath Community Services (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Through the years, the food bank has helped hundreds of families maneuver through challenging times — from laid off mill workers in the 1990s to today’s hardships connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

June Anderson revived the baby bank in the 1980s and it evolved into what serves the community today as June’s Kids Kloset — a program named for her contributions. Philomath Community Gleaners was another early program with Holiday Cheer following in the late 1990s and Lupe’s Community Garden in 2008.

Goul said the organization was established as a charitable nonprofit organization to provide basic necessities for the community of Philomath and western Benton County — the area west of 53rd Street in Corvallis. Most of the clients served are within eligibility levels defined by the federal government.

“Our building here was established in about 2001 by a donation of land from the Harriet Hughes family and from a lot of volunteer help and a lot of volunteer work to put it together to have one building where we could house the programs,” said Goul, who first volunteered with PCS in 2009 and has served on the board since 2016.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing all 30 years with PCS surviving a few significant organizational challenges. But Goul said it’s those volunteers who have made it all work.

“We had our ups and downs … but to be completely a volunteer organization is tremendously taxing and difficult,” Goul said. “But we’ve had some substantial people coming through our board … and our program managers are unbelievable.”

Since the pandemic took hold in March 2020, PCS has been able to continue providing services while adhering to federal and state safety guidelines. For about 12 months, food bank shoppers were not allowed in the building with volunteers filling and distributing food boxes depending on the size of families.

“Since about April of 2021, we have opened up to shopping, which clients really love being able to pick their own food,” Goul said, adding that an air filtration system was also installed. “We still use masks and social distancing but we’re very cognizant” of conditions.

“Slowly, we’re getting people (volunteers) back,” she added, “ and a lot of clients have started coming, too. But we are open and we continue to be open to serve the community.”

The organization now looks to the future with changes on the horizon. The city’s construction of a new water treatment plant next door will impact the current PCS parking area.

“I think things are delayed a lot but the major part of that’s going to be taking away our parking lot … it’s probably going to happen in May of 2022,” Goul said. “We’ve already decided to start working on our wood lot area. We’ve started dismantling that a little bit and adding more parking” on the opposite side of the building.

Goul added that its neighbor to the north, Gerding Companies — which purchased E.D. Hughes Excavating in 2019 — is offering to help by allowing food delivery trucks and gleaners access to their driveway and gate.

“Some changes are coming and yes, we do have some big decisions to make about whether we need to move and get a new building,” Goul said. “The decision to move or build a new building has been on our radar for some time but there are some great possibilities here as well within our building as we have it.”

Sundstrom wants to expand training and education.

“For example, I want to partner with the high schools and be able to offer them some internships and opportunities to do their (senior) project here,” she said. “I’ve reached out to the principal and counselors and we’ll be working with the school to enhance those partnerships.”

PCS also intends to introduce programs in financial planning and meal preparation to help clients.

“Those are some of the things I’ve envisioned really in the next one to three years,” Sundstrom said. “That could be either here or if we decide to move that to another building. But I think in terms of functionality of this building, we do have a lot of space that we could repurpose and reutilize should we stay here.”

Clients have indicated through surveys that they prefer PCS to remain in its current location.

Other plans call for advancing public relations and marketing as well as further enhancing and developing relationships with grantors.

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