SHEM Seeks More Helping Hands for Maintenance, Board

Jeff Rice looks over a cart overloaded with food boxes that will serve a family of seven. Photos by Sarah Brown

Volunteers who operate Sweet Home Emergency Ministries (SHEM) have been providing food and resource services since 1980, but as they look to the future they would like to find more hands to keep operations running smoothly.

Pantry Manager Cindy Rice and Board Chair Julie Dedman said they would like to see the nonprofit’s base strengthened by a younger generation working volunteer hours, business professionals serving on the board and handymen available for regular maintenance.

Pantry Manager Cindy Rice points to a number of divots on the concrete floor that need patching.

As warm weather approaches, the nonprofit has a list of maintenance needs that need to be completed. They include: cleaning gutters, cleaning refrigerator and freezer coils, cart repairs, toilet replacement and related repairs, faucet repairs, painting, spraying weeds, raking leaves, cleaning windows, patching the cement floor, and clearing leaves and/or snow from the sidewalk.

“This is ongoing maintenance and repairs,” Rice said.

Ideally an experienced and able handyman or two could offer their skills on a somewhat regular basis for basic upkeep. Some of the work requires the ability to work on top of the roof, climb ladders or fix plumbing.

Rice, who’s been with SHEM since its inception, said she’s patched the floor multiple times over the years because pallets and carts regularly run through the building, but she can’t complete all the maintenance needs.

“Some of this stuff was actually date night for my husband and I, like returning the benches to the front,” she joked as she looked through a list of maintenance needs.

Prior to COVID, the food and clothing pantry saw a fair number of high school students come through as volunteers, but the pandemic seems to have put a halt to that routine, Rice said.

COVID changed operations “tremendously,” Dedman said, speaking mostly to the fact that SHEM had to discontinue its shopping-style service. They still serve clients outside its building because some volunteers are vulnerable to airborne disease.
Also, the number of people served dropped by a few thousand during the pandemic. In 2010, SHEM served 11,726 people. In 2013 the number of people served peaked at 13,771 before it began to decline until it hit 5,256 in 2021. Most recent data indicates that services are returning to pre-COVID numbers, with 10,481 served in 2023.

Errolyn Bauer sorts through cans of food that will be placed on shelves by product type.

As someone who’s been with SHEM for more than 40 years, in addition to Dedman who’s been there 12 years, Rice wondered if their knowledge and experience will have a chance to be passed down to younger volunteers before they retire.

Rice said she hopes more business professionals will step up to serve on the board and help “strategically plan for the future” with their new energy and fresh ideas.

Anyone interested in volunteering time, performing maintenance work or serving on the board may call 541.367.6504 or email [email protected].