For more than 25 years, Judy Alley fed the hungry, clothed the poor and sheltered the indigent as executive director of SnowCap Community Charities, the east Multnomah County food bank. She retires in October.
by PATRICIA RIMMER
SPECIAL TO THE MID-COUNTY MEMO
“My childhood experience is what motivated me to work at SnowCap,” said Judy Alley, executive director of east Multnomah County’s SnowCap Community Charities. “When my father left the family, my mother [became] the sole support of a family when she had been prepared to be the supportive partner raising children and making a home.”
She added, “In the seventh and eighth grade, I took on domestic responsibilities so that she could go to work. She had to learn to drive, even. She was starting with less than nothing, since she had many responsibilities and no marketable skills. Anyway, it is the experience of making two hot dogs feed six people that motivated me to help SnowCap be a reliable source of food for families in need.”
If an organization’s growth and credibility reflect its leadership, SnowCap Charities’ Alley has been intent on nurturing the nonprofit’s mission to feed and clothe its neighbors in need in central Multnomah County at an incredible level of effectiveness. Alley has been executive director there since 1991. In October, she plans to retire.
“She’s going to be tough to replace,” said Bruce Montgomery, a retired minister and current member of SnowCap’s Board of Directors. Montgomery led Pleasant Home United Methodist Church in Gresham while he sat on the Board’s Search Committee at the time Alley was hired. “She has a real passion for her work and feels strongly her work at SnowCap is what she’s been called to do in life. At the time we hired her, I was especially pleased with her background, her strong management skills. She showed herself to be a real people person.” Montgomery’s responsibilities with SnowCap are coming full circle, as he is again on a hiring committee as a SnowCap board member, this time to find a replacement as Alley retires.
SnowCap Charities was organized in 1967, when it operated out of the basements of Savage Memorial Presbyterian Church in Portland and Trinity Lutheran Church in Gresham. The first executive director was Gemma Preece, followed by Jenny Stewart and then Doug Rogers. Alley is SnowCap’s fourth executive director.
While in its early stages, SnowCap Charities had the loyal support of 10 churches to carry out its services. Today, as Alley is preparing to leave her position, the charity has 80 local churches and one church in The Dalles volunteering their time and donating money, food, clothing and other items to help those who live in poverty. While serving 30 families by offering them access to food was considered a busy day in 1990, now a busy day is helping 100 to 150 families access SnowCap’s food pantry. According to Alley, during the recession, the daily influx of families needing food was even higher.
Alley saw the roots of SnowCap’s beginnings in Vatican II, the popular name for the Second Vatican Council, an assembly of Roman Catholic Church bishops from 1962 to 1965 (while SnowCap neither seeks out the support of churches nor takes political positions on social issues, many of its 1,000 volunteers are church-goers who bring back to their churches praises for the nonprofit’s work, lending it credibility as a loyal supporter of underserved populations). Alley believes the ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, influenced many Christian denominations to explore new ways to work together, especially in doing good works in the larger community. By 1967, church pastors in unincorporated Multnomah County were influenced by this movement, and seeing the need for social services where there was a lack of government services, they began to grow the volunteer efforts of the two original churches.
SnowCap has long since outgrown its first home. One of Alley’s first projects as executive director was the challenge of relocating and expanding SnowCap’s operations. She began by fine-tuning her fundraising skills, studying grant applications a colleague had written. Although she was approached by banks to take out loans to ease the task of fundraising, she found that the SnowCap community responded generously. All funds for its new and current building were raised by Alley; no loans seemed necessary. A moment of grace occurred when an offer was made by a neighboring Methodist church to lease the land long-term for the new, current building to SnowCap for $1 a year until 2036.
For four years, starting in 1995, Alley raised money incrementally so that building could proceed gradually as the money came in. The process, she said, perplexed building inspectors whose guidelines didn’t sometimes adapt smoothly to the stop-and-go construction necessitated by the grassroots fundraising. Construction was often grassroots as well, with many church work parties volunteering time, together with a party of traveling Mennonites that spent time in the vicinity aiding in the building’s construction. The final funding came from grant applications Alley wrote to the Meyer Memorial Trust in Portland and the Murdoch Trust in Vancouver, Washington, each for $50,000. These final monies were a testament not just to the need for SnowCap Charities and its viability but also to Alley’s determined philosophy for her organization that community counts and that it is essential in life to love your neighbor.
Retired minister Ann Richards has known Alley for 21 years. The two became friends over the years, working and lunching together, particularly as Richards chaired the SnowCap Board of Directors for several years. Richards became involved with SnowCap during her time as interim pastor at Peace Church of the Brethren in Portland. Currently, Richards has decided to stay on as an active volunteer in her retirement, and she noted, “Judy does an amazing job. She is good with people, and it’s under her devoted leadership that SnowCap expanded and built its own building.”
According to Charlie Ross, retired pastor at Parkrose United Church of Christ, who was head of the church at the time it was an original SnowCap community church and who also was a SnowCap board member on the Search Committee when Alley applied, “We were so pleased we chose her. She is great with community. She can talk about what SnowCap is doing lovingly, which is important, since it deals with a struggling community.”
There are many programs to carry out SnowCap’s mission within the building, and they are expanding and developing based on the needs of the growing population it serves. While many families have incomes, as evidenced in the well-publicized housing and homelessness crisis during the past year in the Portland metropolitan area, the incomes don’t often keep up with living expenses. As programs for food, clothing, school supplies, Christmas toys for children and organic gardening all aid in keeping families together, a vital part of each program according to Alley, SnowCap also works hard to make volunteer possibilities available for all talents and abilities.
There are only nine paid staff at SnowCap—three part-time, six full-time, including Alley. It is the 1,000 volunteers who do the bulk of the work. SnowCap staff work to make a meaningful experience for each of their volunteers. This begins with a good orientation, a thorough background check and thoughtful placement of the right volunteer for each opening. The variety of programs means that there are volunteer opportunities for everyone.
With so much of the work of the nonprofit performed by volunteers, Alley noted that creative volunteer recruiting was important. Alley distributed drink coasters promoting the volunteer experience at SnowCap to local coffee shops and bars, speculating that if customers had the time to enjoy conversation and a drink, they probably had some free time to devote to SnowCap. More traditional recruitment methods include posting video of volunteer work on the SnowCap website and showing these videos to churches and clubs throughout the community. Volunteer profiles are also published in newsletters, church bulletins and other outlets. “They do the work. They come together to feed and clothe the poor. And they deserve the credit,” Alley commended SnowCap’s volunteers.
Jim Liefeld is qualified to speak to Alley’s accomplishments in growing SnowCap’s volunteer base. In 1985, he was pastor at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Portland and in 1986 and 1987 began his long-term involvement with SnowCap Charities. “Judy took SnowCap’s organization to a whole new level of professionalism and accountability. She not only grew the food pantry, [she] made SnowCap unique because of its core of volunteers. There happens to be staff in addition to volunteers, rather than the other way around. With Judy, it is always about the clients,” he said.
SnowCap’s food pantry has grown to be the largest in Oregon. Regardless of its large size, the human touch is in evident there. For each person who makes use of SnowCap’s food pantry, there is a volunteer personal shopper alongside them who makes cooking suggestions and offers nutritional advice. Food donations come from multiple sources, including the Oregon Food Bank, Hood River growers, Franz Bakery, Cash and Carry, Grocery Outlet, Safeway and Fred Meyer grocery stores. SnowCap also benefits from food drives at local schools, churches and businesses. Volunteers make food deliveries to seniors on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Students who qualify for free and reduced-cost school lunches are sent home with a backpack of food on Fridays to help them stay nourished over the weekend.
The clothing room contains used and new clothing, mostly from churches in the SnowCap community. Some items are purchased new by SnowCap. In a typical month, 4,000 people will be wearing clothes from SnowCap. Included in the inventory are diapers, men’s clothing and plus-sized clothing.
At the end of summer and the start of each school year, SnowCap sponsors a school supply drive, asking for pens, pencils, three-ring binders, paper and pencil/pen pouches, notebooks and backpacks. Sometimes gearing up a child for a new school year is more than a family can afford.
The Christmas toy program helps 1,100 to 1,300 children enjoy the holidays each year. Toys are donated by local fire departments, Boeing and Scenic Fruit. Parents then do their shopping at SnowCap for all the children in the family. Gift cards are donated for older children.
The organic raised beds garden is a popular program at SnowCap. Alley noted that quality and quantity are both important in finding healthy food for low-income people who can’t afford to buy organic. That belief gave rise to the organic garden, a self-sufficiency project. SnowCap provides the water, seed starts, education and space for interested gardeners to grow vegetables that their family will eat. Each family is asked to tithe 10% of their produce to the SnowCap’s food pantry in exchange for this opportunity.
As Alley reflected on her long career at SnowCap, she hoped that she had stayed faithful to the spirit of the program—the commandment to love your neighbor. Her most rewarding moments are breaks from her routine administrative tasks when she can reconnect with people by doing an interview or delivering some groceries. These are special times. Being true to the mission, staying in touch with the people and the ever-present need to raise funds are Alley’s memories of her 26 years at SnowCap. “The community has been very good to us,” she remembered.
The most revealing change she’s seen is the bad luck of the populations who access SnowCap’s services. While she acknowledged the nonprofit has grown, as has its outreach, she still does not discount the bad luck and misfortunes of the growing population of the underserved. “Though SnowCap is a generous and strong community,” she noted, “there is still incredible bad luck in people’s lives. Every day there are divorces, layoffs, rent increases, car breakdowns. Giving is an important part of the community.”
As for retirement, Alley has a few plans in mind. She wants to garden and travel. There is also a basement at home which needs some organizing, but she wouldn’t be surprised if gardening and travel got in the way of that project for a while. Finally, Alley said, “Volunteering will always be a part of my life.”
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary—1967 to 2017
17788 S.E. Pine St. • Portland, OR 97233
(Behind Rockwood Center)
To feed and clothe those in need in the East Multnomah County area.
Donations: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Main telephone: 503-674-8785
SnowCap Community Charities
P.O. Box 160
Fairview, OR 97024
Hours of Operation and Client Service Hours:
Mon., Tues., Thurs. and Fri. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wed. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.