Friday Harbor Food Bank's numbers double

'Counting our blessings'
— image credit: Fitzsimmons / Arizona Daily Star

Susan Eichrodt, program manager for the state’s Emergency Food Assistance Program, said food banks across the state are serving more people than ever before.

Friday Harbor Food Bank is experiencing the surge; the number of people needing food assistance has steadily increased since June, when the food bank expanded to Saturdays.

Some 25 households a week have been served over the last several years. That’s more than doubled since June when the Food Bank opened Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program allocates funds to food banks in Washington state. The program falls under the Community Trade and Economic Development. Funding is based on size of population and poverty rates.

“It is heart-breaking there are so many families needing assistance,” Eichrodt said. “It’s one of these situations you hope you never see again.”

Gov. Christine Gregoire is expected to propose a budget this week. A $6 billion shortfall is predicted.

“We don’t have an inkling what will happen to the Emergency Food Assistance Program, but we are hoping it is held harmless,” Eichrodt said.

She encourages people to donate cash, food and time to local food banks. Eichrodt encourages people to donate nutritious food rather than processed food high in fat and salt. Many people with special dietary needs frequent food banks.

Thanks to the generous support from the San Juan Island community, the Friday Harbor Food Bank has maintained a steady flow of food for families struggling financially. Every month, thousands of pounds of food are given to islanders.

In November 2007, 3,885 pounds of food were given to needy families. A total of 11,815 pounds of food were given to islanders this November.

Staple items — including canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, beans and rice, milk, butter, meats and produce — fill the shelves.

Dorothy Lawson and Betty Gilman are the backbone of this organization. For 26 years, Lawson, president of the Food Bank, has dedicated herself to this vital resource. She has guided the Food Bank through years of growth, moves — and an outpouring of food, funds and labor from islanders.

“It has been a way of life,” Lawson said in describing her dedication to Friday Harbor Food Bank. She was born and raised in Friday Harbor.

Gilman has been an active volunteer for more than 25 years. Sally Stern helps Lawson manage the Food Bank.

Trudy Puncel, secretary/treasurer of the Friday Harbor Food Bank, keeps records regarding number of people served and amount of food donated to needy families.

“Things are changing rapidly,” Puncel said. “We are growing as people’s needs are changing. We have probably doubled since last year.”

In two days, more than 100 households were served. Household numbers vary from one to six in a family. On Dec. 6, 50 families received food and on Dec. 10, 48 families were served.

All clients needing food assistance are considered “new” at the beginning of each calendar year. The number within each household varies.

Names and addresses are the two requirements for those receiving food. The Friday Harbor Food Bank welcomes anyone in need of food throughout the year.

Clients are allowed one stop per week.

The Food Bank receives some funding from the Emergency Food Assistance Program, as well as commodities. In addition, the Food Bank receives donations throughout the year. Local real estate agents, postal carriers and the San Juan School District are the biggest contributors of foods received. There is a donation basket at the front entrance of Market Place.

“Whatever people want to share, we would love to have,” Lawson said.

Friday Harbor Food Bank needs canned vegetables and is running low on an assortment of foods. Bread, rolls, muffins and buns are donated weekly from area bakeries.

In addition to food, the Friday Harbor Food Bank is in need of paper bags.

“For the first time we are out of paper bags,” said Dale Whitmill, a volunteer of 14 years.

Local farmers and gardeners often donate fresh produce; a number of foods are donated from the Demonstration Garden at the Family Resource Center. The Demonstration Garden is maintained by the Master Gardeners program. Home-grown vegetables are welcome as well.

Monetary donations can be mailed to P.O. Box 1642, Friday Harbor 98250. Donors can receive a receipt for tax write-offs.

Friday Harbor Food Bank is open Wednesdays from noon to 2 p.m.; and Saturdays, 2-5 p.m.

Special hours Christmas week: Dec. 23, noon to 2 p.m.; closed Christmas Eve; Saturday, regular hours.

“Last Saturday, we hung Christmas lights on the building,” Whitmill said. “We needed to cheer the place up.”

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