The Carpenters Food Bank will hand out its last food box Oct. 18, ending a 30-year run serving needy families in the Portland metropolitan area.
“It’s a hard thing to do, but there’s no way I can afford to keep it running,” said Mike Fahey, who, along with his late wife Sandy, have operated the food bank out of the basement of the Carpenters Union building on the corner of North Lombard Street and Brandon Avenue in Portland since 1983.
Sandy Fahey, his wife of 40 years, died in July following complications from Legionnaires disease, and a sale is pending on the building.
“The Carpenters Union has taken care of us for the last 30 years, donating all the space and paying all the utilities,” said Fahey, a retired executive secretary-treasurer of the Portland Metal Trades Council and member of Pile Drivers, Divers and Shipwrights Local 2416. Fahey left the trades to start his own mortgage company, but he and Sandy never gave up the food bank. “Sandy was a big, big part of this, too,” he said.
The Faheys helped start the food bank to assist out-of-work and striking union members from the Carpenters and Steelworkers unions. At the time, work at the Portland shipyards was slow, and some 400 Steelworkers were on strike at Oregon Steel Mills.
To help weather the storm, the Carpenters and Steelworkers made arrangements to combine the food assistance programs that each was operating out of the same building on North Lombard.
“It got us through some tough times,” Ted Totten, a member of Steelworkers Local 3010 who was on strike at the time, told the Labor Press in a November 2008 story celebrating the Food Bank’s 25th anniversary. “The Faheys took it over and it’s been going strong since.”
Through the years it built a reputation for putting together one of the best food boxes in the city. Not restricted to union members, people would start lining up at 5 a.m. on the third Friday each month for boxes that often would contain either a whole chicken, a roast or ham … and for sure a turkey at Thanksgiving.
At its peak, the Carpenters Food Bank distributed 850 boxes of food a month. Most recently it was handling 700 customers a month.
“It’s more than 15 million meals,” Fahey said.
In addition to the Faheys and Ted Totten, the core group of volunteers over the past 30 years has been Ann Totten, Don Powers, George Socha, Jenny Schmuck, Jerry Schmuck, Jim Berdadin, Lee Herman, Don Peters, and Claude McMahon. All are retired.
“We served people on strike, people out of work, retirees on fixed incomes, young people, families, everybody,” Fahey said. “Nobody left without a food box.”