Fighting community hunger a year-round battle at food banks

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 20, 2013 

FOOD CHAIN

Bellingham High students form a human chain in 2012 to deliver 1,404 lbs of food they collected to the Bellingham Food Bank.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

Hunger is real in Bellingham and Whatcom County. It's pervasive and needs our attention.

I recently had the good fortune to help one of our clients, Michelle, bring groceries to her car after she had visited our food bank. Michelle was accompanied by her daughters, ages two months and three years. I let Michelle know I was happy to walk to her car and help with all the groceries, but she would have to endure some questions from me about her Bellingham Food Bank experience. I learned a lot.

This was Michelle's first visit to Bellingham Food Bank. She and her girls had recently escaped from an abusive household. They were happy to be in a safe place, but had little money and almost no food in their new apartment. A friend suggested she visit our food bank so they came to us for help. Michelle admitted to having been hesitant to come and get help.

I asked Michelle how we did and she broke into a huge smile. Her first comments focused on our food bank's volunteers. "They were so friendly and helpful. They all smiled and made me feel welcome." Michelle admitted to being nervous before coming to the food bank as she had no idea what it would be like. Our food bank's goal is to serve people with dignity and to make them feel welcome. It was clear from Michelle's comments that we were successful with her.

Next Michelle commented on the food she and her daughters received. She was amazed at how much food she was going to get to take to their new apartment. As I helped push her cart down Ellis Street it was clear that she had received more than 70 pounds of groceries. But, Michelle was really blown away with the variety and quality of food our food bank was able to provide. "Milk, eggs, yogurt, frozen chicken, fresh vegetables, and so much bread -- even diapers!" Bellingham Food Bank works hard to make sure we don't just offer our families a lot of food, but also try to make sure we offer a lot of good, healthy food. We focus a lot of our energy and resources at getting fresh, nutritious food that isn't often associated with food banks. Local gardeners, farmers, grocers and donors make it possible to bring good food into Bellingham Food Bank.

Loading Michelle's car up was really fun. She has a two-door Toyota hatchback and fitting the food and kids was going to be a challenge. First, we strapped the two girls into their car seats. Next, we carefully packed the food in around the girls with loaves of bread stacked between them. Michelle drove away with a big wave and said, "See you next week!"

Michelle is one of thousands of families who will visit our food bank this year. During the week of Thanksgiving nearly 2,000 Bellingham Families visited our food bank. One in six local families visits a food bank on a regular basis. Nearly each time I tell people this fact, there is stunned disbelief, but it is the sad truth.

I am proud of the food bank and what it is able to provide to community members. We receive great support from our local community. It's the only way we've been able to launch some innovative programs and keep up with the growing demand for our services. The holiday season is when we receive the bulk of our local support. But, hunger is unfortunately a year round issue in Bellingham and Whatcom County. We help thousands in December and will help thousands of families in July. Our staff, volunteers and other supporters know how good it feels to feed our neighbors. I invite you to join our team and help address hunger in Bellingham and Whatcom County. There are lots of ways to help. Unfortunately, families like Michelle's need our help. Thankfully, there are lots of a ways to make a big difference. Join our fight help hungry families.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Cohen is executive director of the Bellingham Food Bank, 1824 Ellis St. For more information call 360-676-0392 or go to bellinghamfoodbank.org.

HOW TO HELP

Here are some suggestions for helping the Bellingham Food Bank:

  • Make a monetary donation, $100 will buy 1,000 pounds of food.
  • Donate food, donations are accepted Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Become a Food4Tots sponsor and help collect the 1,000 jars of baby food the food bank needs each month.
  • Become a Victory Gardener and grow veggies for the food bank.
  • For more information, visit the website at bellinghamfoodbank.org. Or call the food bank with ideas or questions at 360-676-0392.
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