Member Cindy Lanoy sorts donated produce at Hope Station on Wednesday, March 2, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Cindy Lanoy struggled after her husband left her several years ago.

The Salem mother of three said her income as a caregiver was about $100 per month too much to qualify her for food stamps. She moved back in with her mother and tried to find ways to pay the bills.

“I had pretty much isolated myself and the kids,” she said.

Soon after, she discovered Hope Station - a cavernous warehouse in north central Salem that’s been a lifeline for Lanoy and her family for the past three years.

Lanoy pays $35 per month as a member at Hope Station, which allows her to “shop” through the nonprofit’s shelves twice per month.

There, she can take home fresh produce, pantry staples and needed household items like diapers and soap, all free. She volunteers with other members to sort produce and keep shelves stocked.

“This place has been a lifesaver,” Lanoy said. “I hardly have to do any actual grocery shopping.”

The faith-based nonprofit is the brainchild of Marcia Mattoso, who grew up impoverished in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

With help from her church, Mattoso was able to attend college and eventually move to Portland to study for a master’s degree in counseling.

But while working as a counselor, Mattoso said she discovered her calling.

“I really felt that God was leading me to open a nonprofit to help the poor,” she said.

Mattoso assumed she’d work helping people like her family in Brazil, where she grew up without enough to eat. She knew nothing about nonprofit management and enrolled in Portland State University to study.

While there, she interned at Portland’s Birch Community Services Inc., which helps low-income families through a membership where they receive groceries, household items and financial literacy classes in exchange for monthly dues and volunteering.

Mattoso said it was clear what God was calling her to do - open a similar venture in Salem.

“I only had the dream and the vision. I didn’t have any money to do that,” she said.

Marcia Mattoso, executive director of Hope Station (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

She approached Salem’s First Church of the Nazarene, where members voted to fund Hope Station’s first two years of operations. In 2008, they launched in a 1,600-square-foot warehouse downtown.

Six months later, they’d outgrown the space and moved to southeast Salem. Mattoso said she’s always been able to find a donor or help when Hope has needed to expand.

“God just provided,” she said.

They’ve been at their current location on Madison Street Northeast for about eight years.

The organization still runs on little more than a shoestring.

Its 2020 tax filings show the warehouse’s rent as its highest expense, at $66,000 per year, followed by Mattoso’s salary. The organization received $1.8 million in contributions that year, nearly all of it in-kind donations of groceries and other items to give out to members and clients.

Mattoso’s target is to help people like Lanoy who earn just a bit too much to qualify for government assistance, but still struggle to make ends meet.

Member fees help people feel invested, she said, and also help cover operational expenses. Members volunteer two hours per month - something Lanoy said has helped her find a place she feels she belongs.

“We want to give a sense of responsibility and ownership,” Mattoso said.

The Hope Station warehouse in north central Salem (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Mattoso said the pandemic didn’t lead to an uptick in people seeking their help, which she attributed to expanded government aid and benefits available to people.

But Hope Station has seen steady growth in recent years and now has about 100 paying members, while serving close to 1,000 families each month who opt not to join but can still shop from a smaller selection of free items like bread and produce.

More donations have come in over the past two years as well, which she attributed to more people wanting to help during the pandemic.

“We continue to be very busy,” she said.

Mattoso’s work has also allowed her to help families back home. 

In 2017, Hope Station opened a free medical clinic in Rio De Janeiro. Now, they’re working to expand to a mobile offering that can travel the city and offer health care. She’s traveling to Brazil at the end of March to work on that effort.

“We’re just growing and giving more,” she said.

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

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