Ron Gustin started donating and then marshaled other individuals and businesses to contribute so that the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at St. Anthony Parish in Tigard could have fresh produce and milk. “I am not saving the world, just taking care of people in the community where I grew up.” (Courtesy John Gustin)
Ron Gustin started donating and then marshaled other individuals and businesses to contribute so that the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at St. Anthony Parish in Tigard could have fresh produce and milk. “I am not saving the world, just taking care of people in the community where I grew up.” (Courtesy John Gustin)

TIGARD — In 2009, Ron Gustin visited the busy St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at his lifelong parish, St. Anthony here. He was amazed that hundreds of needy families receive food each month.

The ministry had spectacular volunteers and shelves full of canned and boxed goods. Bins were bursting with toiletries. But the fresh produce was limp, spotty and altogether unappetizing.

What emerged was a model partnership among a charity, businesses and people with good hearts.

Gustin, who owns Duck Delivery produce distribution, told his wife Tammy about the pantry’s need, and they immediately began supplying boxes of fresh apples and oranges, paying from their own pockets. What they could provide lasted only a week.

Then Gustin had a bigger idea. He consulted with eight parish families — his social group — and convinced them to donate $20 per month each as a way to increase the pantry’s fresh produce supply.

In a sign of his enthusiasm and persuasiveness, everyone gave. Then, at coffee and doughnuts after Mass, Gustin started bringing other people aboard by his sheer zeal. He paid for t-shirts emblazoned with the name of the project: Feed ‘Em Fresh.

Gustin was wearing one of the shirts one day while speaking with Pat and Joe Campbell, founders of Elk Cove Vineyards near Gaston. They asked about Feed ‘Em Fresh and once they learned about it, wanted to get involved.

That gave rise to an annual benefit dinner at the scenic winery, known for world-class pinot noir and for being family owned. The Campbells donate the space, staff and wine for an event that now raises as much as $18,000 annually. That funding helps Gustin bring in almost 1,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables every week. In addition, diners buy bottles of wine, helping Elk Cove’s business.

Gustin, who does not rest on his laurels, discovered that the St. Anthony pantry had a hard time staying in fresh milk. When he heard that families received powdered milk, he retched a bit. At a class reunion, he met up with a classmate who works at Alpenrose Dairy. After discussions and proposals, the dairy began providing 110 half gallons of milk weekly at a low price.

“I stretch every penny I get to make sure we can provide the most fruits and vegetables and milk,” said Gustin, who takes no recompense for the work.

Gustin has been a St. Anthony Parish stalwart. In 2009, he built the sign in front of the church, held up by strong stone pillars. He has coached CYO football and served on the parish cemetery board of directors. But Feed ‘Em Fresh may be his masterpiece.

Mark Bogert, president of the St. Vincent de Paul conference at St. Anthony, was one of the parishioners Gustin hit up for a monthly donation. Bogert, a vegan, is delighted with the fresh healthy food Gustin provides. 

“We went from almost nothing to always having apples, oranges, fresh onions and potatoes,” said Bogert.

About 100 families come for food each week at St. Anthony. The good produce and milk are popular.

“It is something people really do count on,” Bogert said, imagining children with crisp apples in their lunches. “To me it’s a source of pride.”

Gustin handles the details.

“It’s amazing to me,” Bogert concludes, “that Ron will organize all that.”

Now Gustin wants to broaden the base of partnerships even more, inviting more people to the Elk Cove dinner.

“I love to throw a good party,” he said. “I am not saving the world, just taking care of people in the community where I grew up.”

edl@catholicsentinel.org

 

To learn more

Ron.gustin@unitedsalad.com

503-724-0979

The benefit dinner for Feed ‘Em Fresh is set for June 6, 2020 at Elk Cove Vineyards. Cost us $275, with checks made out to St. Vincent de Paul. Limited to 60 people.