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Second Harvest marks 50th, opens warehouse

Glori Cheevers shows one of the backpack food packages.

During October, as Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest marks its 50th year, it opened new offices and warehouse space at 402 N. Perry St., just across from its headquarters at 1234 E. Front, to accommodate the food storage, volunteers and shipments for its Bite2Go backpack program for school children.

As that program and other programs have grown, Second Harvest also needed more space for staff offices.

Second Harvest feeds hungry people in the region with the assistance of 15,000 donors, 8,000 volunteers and a mix of corporate, government and local partnerships. It collects and then distributes food through neighborhood food banks, meal sites, mobile markets and Bite2Go program.

Over the 50 years, Second Harvest has distributed more than 540 million pounds of fresh product, packaged and canned goods, household staples and other food—one third of that just in the last six years

Since Bite2Go began in 2014, it became a victim of its own success, crowding the main building storage space and loading docks used by food banks picking up food, said Jason Clark, executive director since 2002.

Before the pandemic, 180,000 school kits—plastic bags with food for a weekend—were given out.

Parts of the warehouse were set aside on Saturdays to accommodate people and materials. Then Jason learned the Stoneway Electric Building at 402 N. Perry St. across the street was available, so staff began raising funds.

The new facility, the Wolff Family Child Hunger Solutions Center, is named for major donors, who supported it along with other community donors.

Second Harvest purchased the 22,000-square-foot building in 2018 and expected it would be renovated and operational in 12 to 18 months.

A few months into construction, COVID hit, delaying construction. Second Harvest opened the warehouse and storage in mid-August, and then the offices for the fundraising and leadership team in October. It includes a community meeting room and a volunteer reception area.

Bite2Go is now feeding 5,000 children a week. Based on data from the Superintendent of Public Instruction's office, there is need to provide weekend food for 19,000 children east of the Cascades across the 21 counties of Eastern Washington and five counties in the Idaho Panhandle Second Harvest serves.

There are 75 to 125 students in each of the area's 100 grade schools, in which 20 percent of children are on the free and reduced lunch program, struggling with severe food issues, Jason said. In high schools, there is need for 10 percent of students.

"The backpack program has been a lifeline for children dealing with food insecurity," said Jason.

Currently, Second Harvest is supplying school kits to 70 Spokane County schools in the program.  It partners with At the Core, which recruits churches, groups and businesses to adopt a school. They pay $5 per child to provide the food and are involved in the schools.

"We buy semi-truckloads directly from manufacturers to supply food for thousands of backpacks," Jason said.

The new Child Hunger Solutions Center stores food, has a volunteer center where volunteers come to pack the food into bags, which are put in plastic boxes for each school.

Volunteers from groups sponsoring a school come Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays to pick up plastic bags other volunteers filled with weekend food.  The sacks are packed in boxes that go to different schools.

The schools determine the best way to give out the food—many through a trusted teacher who puts the food in the kids' backpacks to avoid stigma.

Students are enrolled based on self-declared or teacher-counselor observed need.

"At the peak of the pandemic there were clearly huge numbers of newly food insecure people, so we did massive outreach," Jason said. "The numbers in recent months have been higher than in 2019 and lower than the peak of the pandemic, when we served 20 percent more than in 2019," said Jason.

Second Harvest donors support the general work of its staff, volunteers, trucks and warehouses, which use varied strategies to get food to people who need it—partner food banks, meal sites, mobile markets, grocery rescue efforts and nutrition education.

In 1971, Kay Porta, a child welfare provider with the Department of Social and Health Services, started the Food Bank downtown in a 1,000-square foot store front on Front Ave.

On July 23, Kay's family, her three daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, visited Second Harvest as it took time to reflect on its history as part of its 50th anniversary. The family gathered as part of a celebration of life for Kay, who died last year.

In 1981, it was renamed Spokane Food Bank. In 1984, they moved to a building on W. Maxwell that had refrigeration, and connected with the Second Harvest National Food Bank Network. They moved to 1234 E. Front in 1988 to the 35,000 square foot present warehouse. In 2000, it became Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest.

In 2006, it began its mobile food program, partnering with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans to provide more fresh food. The Mobile Market program has two trucks and a bus.

Its volunteer center opened in 2012 and its teaching kitchen in 2015.

Jason started volunteering in his home town of St. Joseph, Mo., and during college helped pick up food that was going to waste.

Now 27 years later, he continues to feed hungry people through Second Harvest, which helps donors, volunteers and partners "do something real for people who do not have food on the table tonight," he said.

"Providing food is something we can solve," he said. "Children and seniors are most vulnerable and comprise 50 percent of our 8,000 clients."

In 1997, Second Harvest opened a second hunger solution center in the Tri-Cities to serve the Columbia Basin and Yakima Valley.

Second Harvest works to fight hunger by bringing together community resources to feed people nutritious food so they can have healthy lives, Jason said.

Many faith communities and faith-related agencies offer food banks. About 50 percent of volunteers are from faith communities, he said.

With many volunteers being older, he said, the pandemic has made it harder for some volunteers to come to Second Harvest because many older people have been avoiding going out. Second Harvest seeks volunteers in both Spokane and Tri-Cities.

The pandemic has brought greater need, and Second Harvest has responded, providing 43 million pounds of food in 2020 and 50 million pounds of food so far in 2021, up from an average of 25 to 30 million pounds of food per year prior to that.

For information, call 509-534-6678 or visit

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2021