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Janeece Cook

Janeece Cook, directs the South Benton Food Bank in Monroe. Cook said the food bank serves 109 households on average each month. (Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Andy Cripe

Janeece Cook is the director of the volunteer-run South Benton Community Food Bank in Monroe. She also works for Strengthening Rural Families, helping the organization target its programs at the Monroe area’s needs. And she studies human development and family science at Linn Benton Community College. And councils people with substance abuse issues through her church. Plus, she has three teenage daughters still at home.

“I got about four hours sleep last night,” she joked Friday morning. “That’s pretty good.”

Cook said seeing the smiles of people in town that she knows have been helped by programs she works with makes all the effort worthwhile for her.

She moved to Monroe in 2004, and said it is a beautiful, friendly little town.

“Finding this area was a heaven-sent thing,” she said.

However, she said people in other areas of the county might not always be aware of the issues the town faces – such as high unemployment and a people who struggle finding transportation to services in town.

“There are a lot of issues in small communities that need to be addressed,” she said.

The Oregon Department of Education said in its annual report on the Monroe School District that nearly 60 percent of the K-8 students in the district are economically disadvantaged.

Cook said the South Benton Community Food Bank serves an average of 109 households a month, representing 342 people. She said this is a total of 12,500 to 21,000 meals each year.

The Monroe food bank is affiliated with Linn-Benton Food Share, and Cook said they prepare meals for families based on U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, and distribute food boxes every other week. The Monroe food banks is housed by the Monroe United Methodist Church, located at 648 Orchard Street.

The food bank has more than 1,150 hours of volunteer work each year.

Cook’s work with Strengthening Rural Families is also aimed at improving the lives of people in South Benton County. According to Cook, the non-profit puts on parenting and English as a second language classes in the community.

Cook’s work with Strengthening Rural Families involves helping assess what programs the community needs.

She said people in more populated areas may not always understand the rural communities’ needs.

“Don’t forget rural people. Remember them in your planning and that their voices are different… you have to make sure you don’t go in with a big city attitude,” she said.

Cook gives the new library as an example of what the community can achieve when it rallies together. The library was opened in May after the community spent 6 years fundraising to build the $2.4 million structure. Cook said the library is now the heart of the community.

“I love working with this community. Some things can get a little tough, but we pull together and get through it.”

JANEECE COOK

RESIDENCE: Monroe

HOMETOWN: Arlee, Mont.

OCCUPATION: Director, South Benton Food Bank in Monroe; works for Strengthening Rural Families

FAMILY: Daughters Jasmine Jones, Jessica Wright, Kaitlynn Cook and Calley Cook; husband David Cook

Anthony Rimel covers K-12 education. He can be reached at 541-758-9526 or anthony.rimel@lee.net.

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