The U.S Department of Agriculture estimates that 12.7 percent or 15.8 million households were food-insecure in 2015, and 7.8 percent of those households have children.
Lt. Jonathan Woollin, corps officer for the Salvation Army in Bellingham, believes that providing children food to help sustain them through the day not only helps the children, but society in general.
“If you send a child to school on an empty stomach, they don’t do well,” Woollin said. “If they don’t do well in school, they’re not going to get a good job; they’re not going to be beneficial to the community later on..”
That’s one reason donations from restaurants such as Olive Garden to the Salvation Army and other food banks in local communities are so important, he said.
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Every Tuesday at 9 a.m., Olive Garden managers review frozen and dated leftovers from the previous night, weigh them, document the donations, and send them to the Salvation Army.
“Since the inception of the program for Olive Garden in 2003, this restaurant alone has donated over 61,000 pounds, and it comes to a little over 51,000 meals,” said Keef Pepper, Olive Garden’s general manager in Bellingham. “Anything that we don’t use – you know, our lasagna at the end of the night, our meat sauces, soups, any proteins that have been cooked off – we freeze it, we date it, it has to be cooked up within a week and they come once a week to pick it up.”
Olive Garden’s weekly donation varies.
“We just feel like it’s great to be a partner in the community we operate in, and to be able to give back to the community is a huge thing for us as a company,” Pepper said.
The Salvation Army also accepts monetary donations.
“Some people feel like just giving money is disconnected, so they would prefer to gift in kind, and so we can use anything. We could use money and we always keep money local,” Woollin said. “But if people feel like they want to do a food drive or something like that, we’ll take canned goods or anything, of course. It really just depends on how people want to give.”
Mike Cohen, executive director of the Bellingham Food Bank, said if people want to get the most with their money, then financial donations would be the way to go.
“We only buy from folks who sell to food banks,” Cohen said. “We can take a $10 donation and turn it into $80 worth of food. It is a better use for anyone’s money if they want to donate and that way we can get what we need.”
That doesn’t mean the food bank isn’t happy to accept food donations as well, especially since it is the “hub” for hunger relief in Bellingham. Cohen said besides receiving donations from individuals and businesses, the food bank also rescues food from just about every store in Bellingham.
Bellingham Food Bank takes in around 600 to 800 pounds of food monthly. According to its website, it “receives, stores, and redistributes more than 2 million pounds of food to hunger fighting partners across the region.”
Cohen noted that the food bank operates year-round.
“The holidays are certainly a time of year that people think about hunger in the food bank, but the truth ... is that we’re busy year-round,” Cohen said. “There isn’t specifically a single type of thing that we’re looking for over the holidays, since we’re constantly getting donations. We just hope that people will think of us the other 11 months of the year.”
The Bellingham Food Bank is teaming up with Uber to help collect food from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9.
Those interested in participating must buy sealed and non-perishable food, download the Uber app and press the donate option in the app at the bottom of the screen. Once that’s done, Uber will come pick up the food for free and take it to the donation truck. Every donor will receive a gift from Uber for “giving back to our community this holiday season,” said Angela Cloud, Uber’s local city coordinator.