The Cornelius-based nonprofit will offer healthy options between a strip of fast food restaurants.

COURTESY PHOTO: CENTRO CULTURAL - A digital rendering of the new market-style food pantry opening in Cornelius.Centro Cultural de Washington County is opening a new market-style food pantry in Cornelius next month, a significant addition in one of the poorest parts of Oregon’s second-most populous county.

Officials with the nonprofit group say their goal is to provide healthy options amid a slew of fast food restaurants in Cornelius and Forest Grove.

With state American Rescue Plan Act funding, Centro Cultural purchased a building off westbound Highway 8, signed locally as North Baseline Street, to set up Centro Mercado.

The pantry will be set up like a grocery store, providing a level of familiarity and comfort for patrons.

“The store is built on dignity and respect,” said Juan Carlos González, a Centro Cultural spokesperson and the area’s representative on the Metro Council. “People come in and make their choices like anywhere else.”

Centro Cultural previously operated a food pantry with limited hours, opening to patrons once or twice per week.

When demand increased during the pandemic, the pantry opened first every weekday, and then every day, out of the organization’s traditional headquarters and meeting hall, a block away from the new site.

The new pantry will be stocked by donations, as well through as partnerships with local farmers, including Working Theory Farm in Hillsboro.

“It’s an advancement of food justice in west Washington County. It’s not only about food, it’s about connecting the community to high-quality organic food through partnerships with farms,” González said.

Federal data shows that despite its status as Oregon’s most affluent county by median household income, Washington County is home to a number of “food deserts” where residents struggle with consistent access to healthy food.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture and Census Bureau data, in between Main Street in Forest Grove and Fourth Avenue in Cornelius, more than 100 housing units do not have a vehicle and are more than half a mile from the nearest food store.

Residents without vehicles face similar situations in a swath of northeast Hillsboro adjacent to the Westside Commons — formerly known as the Washington County Fair Complex — as well as part of Beaverton adjacent to the Nike World Campus.

“Food deserts are such a significant issue,” said González, who grew up in Cornelius and now lives in Hillsboro.

At 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 25, at the new food pantry’s location at 1216 Baseline St. in Cornelius, Centro Cultural is hosting an opening ceremony for the new market, which it hopes to open by Nov. 12.

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