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Mobile food distributions help target pockets of poverty

By Deidre Jacobson

Likening hunger to a freight train, Rod Wieber, director of donor and community relations at Second Harvest Inland Northwest, said that for 18 months hunger has been moving along at a good clip and at times picking up more speed, more so as winter approaches. 

The challenge is to keep meeting the need as it increases within the 21 Eastern Washington and five North Idaho counties. 

Mobile Food Bank
Dawn Yarnell, director of operations at Second Harvest, helps volunteers at Westminster Presbyterian Church fill boxes with food during a mobile food distribution.

To provide healthful food to greater numbers of people, Rod said Second Harvest is targeting “pockets of poverty,” bringing more food to those in need through the food banks and meal centers we partner with.

“Poverty can happen to anyone,” he said.  “We are seeing an increase in the number of emergency food clients who have college degrees as families are affected by company layoffs and wage cuts.”

One partner agencies, the Salvation Army, has reported an increase this past year of about 200 new clients each month.  They also see more middle-income earners and expect the trend to continue through 2010.

Meeting the need head on, Second Harvest initiated its mobile food bank program, distributing food to 80 locations in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. 

Because each truck holds 8,000 pounds of food products, Second Harvest needs the help of 12 to 20 volunteers to load, transport and hand out the food. 

Often 150 to 200 families and individuals will be lined up to receive a bag or box, packaged by the volunteers.  The bags or boxes are filled with fresh items like cherries, apples, potatoes and onions donated by the agricultural industry along with an assortment of other food items.

In 2008, Second Harvest Inland Northwest took truckloads of food to 65 different food distribution sites around the region and served thousands of families. As of mid November, Second Harvest did 80 mobile food distributions in 2009, and they expect to do more than 100 in 2010. 

In January, 800 families in Walla Walla, stood in line to receive food.  Last month, more than 33,000 pounds of food were distributed to 550 families there.

In August, volunteers at Millwood helped distribute 11,651 pounds of food to 156 households for 532 household members.  In November, 23 volunteers distributed 7,921 pounds of fresh food to 692 people in 189 households.

From 1 to 3 p.m., Nov. 13, parking lots of Millwood Presbyterian Church in Spokane Valley and Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Central Spokane became food distribution sites for the second time in 2009.

Millwood Presbyterian and local West Valley community leaders have just agreed with Second Harvest to do a monthly food distribution on second Fridays.

Each mobile food bank distribution costs Second Harvest about $2,000.  To do a monthly distribution, organizers seek 12 businesses or organizations, one each month, to contribute $600 to sponsor a distribution.

Child hunger remains an ongoing concern, said Rod.

Second Harvest’s 23rd Annual Client Survey revealed that 37 percent of the people helped by neighborhood food banks are children and 57 percent of parents reported skipping meals to feed their children.  More than half of those parents say it happens on a daily or weekly basis.  Children who lack enough to eat are at greater risk of illness and failure in school, Rod said.

This year, Second Harvest also launched two more Kids Café programs—one in West Central Community Center and the other at Cheney Middle School with Communities in Schools of Spokane County.  It targets child hunger by collaborating with nonprofits that provide a safe place for children to gather for recreation, tutoring and other activities, he said.  Second Harvest provides afternoon snacks for hundreds of children at these locations.

Second Harvest also works with Washington State University to provide education on healthful food choices.  WSU instructors provide cooking classes and nutrition education at sites where food is distributed. 

At the Salvation Army, a cooking show teaches clients how to prepare simple, nutritious meals, when it distributes ingredients.

Most of the food Second Harvest distributes is donated, but energy and resources are required to move the food from the donors to the hungry people. 

The 32 employees and 15 vehicles keep the operation running.  More than 2,000 volunteers sort, box and re-pack the bulk donations, providing a foundation of support for the operation.

“The community has been generous,” said Rod.   “We do not see anyone pulling back, especially at this time of year as we benefit from food and cash drives.”

Employees at one business will forgo their annual holiday party and donate the funds to Second Harvest. 

Another business group held a recent fund drive and collected more than $7,000, standing on street corners collecting cash.

“I was inspired by the energy of this group,” he said.

Each year Tom’s Turkey Drive provides about 8,000 Thanksgiving meals.

There is now a critical need for such nonperishable food items as peanut butter, canned meats, hearty soups, chili, stews, macaroni and cheese, boxed dinners and beans.  There is also need for canned fruits and vegetables, canned or boxed juices, boxed mashed potatoes, dried fruit, pasta, rice, healthy cereals, flour, baking mixes, stuffing mixes, oatmeal and cream of wheat.

 “We operate through the generosity of the community.  Our food donors and volunteers make it possible to feed 48,000 people each week,” Rod said.

For information, call 252-6259.


Copyright © December 2009 - The Fig Tree