Alice Swanson, right, and other volunteers prepare a meal at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Woodburn (Courtesy/Terri Gonzalez)

Alice Swanson worried about her neighbors going without food after the Covid pandemic shut down much of Woodburn in the spring.

So she and a friend went to the board of the Immanuel Lutheran Church, which had been serving a free weekly dinner, and asked if they could turn the offering into a drive-thru meal pick up.

In the months since, the effort has grown from feeding about 100 people weekly to upwards of 370, dishing out hot soup, herbed chicken and macaroni and cheese to anyone needing a meal.

Swanson said it’s been possible with help from other churches, local businesses and people who just want to help.

“What’s amazing is the alliances,” Swanson said. “People are looking for a chance to do good.”

Swanson, who was elected to the Woodburn City Council in November, was one of 10 people in the Salem area recently recognized by the Maps Credit Union Community Foundation with a community volunteer award.

Her nomination cited her work organizing food drives and meals. Swanson was also involved in wildfire relief, helping set up a “Room to Breathe” at a local school for people to get out of the hazardous air in September.

Kim Hanson, the foundation’s executive director, said they began the awards this year to recognize people who have served others as the region coped with the pandemic and, later, devastating wildfires.

“We wanted to do something that felt more like lifting up our community,” she said.

Hanson said the foundation plans to continue the award in coming years and may open it up for non-members to be recognized.

Ten winners, all credit union members, received a $1,000 check to donate to a nonprofit of their choice.

Swanson said she found out about the award on a video call while visiting family in Idaho.

“It was good news. I cried like a baby. It was the sweetest nomination ever,” she said.

Evelyn McCoy-Harris learned she was among the winners when she went into the credit union recently to take care of some business with the grants account for Seed of Faith Ministries, the church and community service organization she and her husband have run for more than 20 years in Salem.

Their work includes a child care center, several food banks and other efforts to help Salem’s less fortunate. In July, they started a new effort out of a church on State Street, serving warm meals and giving away clothes, blankets and other items to homeless people in the area.

McCoy-Harris said they used the $1,000 to buy ingredients for the meals.

“It really came right on time because of the outreach there,” McCoy-Harris said.

Other winners include Jesse Rodriguez, whose work building a fire line along Butte Creek helped save homes in Scotts Mills from the Santiam Canyon wildfire, and Clinton Gerentrich, athletic director at Sprague High School, who worked to set up socially distant camps for student athletes over the summer so they’d be able to get out of the house.

Swanson said she hopes the recognition prompts more people to get involved in helping homeless neighbors in Woodburn and supporting longer-term solutions like housing connected with help for mental health problems and addictions.

“We’re better together,” Swanson said. “I’m not important, it’s really about getting people to get on board.”

More information about the winners is available on the Maps website.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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