In 2018, we were asked by the Yuba-Sutter Food Bank (YSFB) for our help as they needed a site from which to distribute food to the locals in need. A fire had burned down the local grocery store and this left many families in a tough spot. All of the churches in Brownsville were contacted, but we were the only ones who said, “Yes.” For one thing, we saw the social issues that affected this remote, mountainous area: a large elderly population, few resources and stores, insufficient housing, poor telecommunication, and limited opportunities for employment. This corner of Yuba County is picturesque and appeals to some fleeing urban areas, but it had seen its heyday decades ago. For the most part, these are humble country folk like you'll find in Appalachia and similar regions.
The old Grange, eventually renamed Óðinshof honoring the Allfather of our Gods, Óðinn, was a bustling place on the second Saturday of every month. It was easy to provide enough volunteers to set up tables in our hall and bring in large quantities of food to feed the locals. Being that the program was affiliated with California State agencies and the Federal USDA, paperwork was required with limitations on whom we could serve.
But several things were out of our control. We were notified that the schedule was changing, with Friday mornings being our new distribution day. Challenges we now faced included getting volunteers on a Friday, dealing with their ever-changing YSFB staffing – and Covid. Masking-up became the norm. Even in these tough times, we were required to check picture-ID and proof of a physical address in the “right” zip code for each-and-every family.
The ultimate “change” was the YSFB decision to use a different distribution site in Brownsville. After the initial shock of hearing this news, we decided to go it alone. The Óðinshof Food Pantry was now a reality. We would not limit ourselves to a particular zip code. In fact, we extended our reach over the county-line into rural Butte County, as some of our recipients had the county boundaries running right through their living rooms. No ID required. Anyone who needed food was welcome. And it worked!
We made this change in April 2021. We scheduled it for the third Saturday of each month since it is the day we've chosen for all Óðinshof events. Our food source is no longer the Yuba Sutter Food Bank, though we could “buy” food from them. Instead, we're working with a major faith-based food charity in Nevada County. Every month, Gythia McNallen fills her SUV to the max with food for the larger Brownsville area. We're limited to mostly staple goods in cans, but we try to bring out eggs and cheese as well. It's not fancy food, but it will tide people over in a pinch and we make sure that every family receives at least one huge bag of food.
Delivering food and filling bags prior to Saturday morning requires a lot of time. But to us, it's absolutely worthwhile to fill the gap of “food insecurity” for locals whose surnames originate throughout Europe. Regardless, the generosity of our food source means that we will never turn anyone away who is in need. It is the right thing to do.
Our very modest first distribution served 18 families. To date, we have given food to 170 different families from Yuba and Butte counties. The Óðinshof Food Pantry gives us the opportunity to show the locals who we really are.
We provide food to all who are hungry and we LOVE our Brownsville community!
If you would like more information or to sponsor our Food Pantry please contact Gythia Sheila McNallen at Smcnallen@runestone.org.