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‘Every winter, we fight water’ and other reasons why this food bank needs a new home

Nooksack Valley Food Bank is getting a new home

The Nooksack Valley Food Bank is currently located in the basement of the Everson Presbyterian Church in Everson, Wash. Thanks to the help of volunteers, the food bank will have a new building behind the church in fall 2019.
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The Nooksack Valley Food Bank is currently located in the basement of the Everson Presbyterian Church in Everson, Wash. Thanks to the help of volunteers, the food bank will have a new building behind the church in fall 2019.

After 33 years, the Nooksack Valley Food Bank will be able to move out of a church basement and into a home of its own.

The new 3,600-square-foot space is being built on land behind Everson Presbyterian Church, 204 N. Washington St.

“They have been good enough to give us a hundred-year lease on the land, so we didn’t have to buy the land,” Ted Lautenbach, who is co-director of the food bank along with wife Diane, said to The Bellingham Herald.

Construction is expected to end in a couple of months. When it’s done, the food bank will move from the church basement into a slightly bigger space.

The new building is being made possible by people who care, according to the Lautenbachs.

“This building is a community effort. We have no government funds. This building is paid for by our friends and neighbors,” Ted Lautenbach said.

A new space, which is being built above the hundred-year flood plain, is needed for several reasons, according to the Lautenbachs.

Each week, the organization provides food to about 180 families living in the Sumas, Everson and Nooksack area. Some food bank clients — parents with strollers, people with disabilities, those who are frail — have a hard time climbing the stairs out of the basement while carrying a 50-pound box of groceries.

The church, built in 1936, is sinking. “Every winter, we fight water on the floor,” Ted Lautenbach said.

A downpour about a month ago meant having to, for the first time, pump water out of the basement.

Church membership has declined and the Launtenbachs feared the church could close one day, leaving the food bank out in the cold and scrambling to find a new home.

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Diane and Ted Lautenbach, co-directors of the Nooksack Valley Food Bank, have raised funds for the 3,600-square-foot building being constructed for the food bank with the help of community volunteers. When completed, the food bank will move from the basement of the Everson Presbyterian Church into the building behind the church. Everson Food Bank Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The food bank is being built in a time of need.

“Hunger in the Nooksack Valley is very real, like it is in many parts of Whatcom County,” Mike Cohen, executive director of the Bellingham Food Bank, said to The Bellingham Herald. “While downtown Everson does have a full grocery store, much of the food bank’s service area is in a ‘food desert.’

A food desert is an area with limited access to nutritious food that is affordable.

The Bellingham Food Bank serves as a hub for a network of some 20 food banks and meal programs in Whatcom and San Juan counties, including Nooksack Valley.

The number of low-income students in the Nooksack Valley School District could be one indication of need.

About 58% of its 1,845 students are low-income, according to data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Of Whatcom County’s seven public school districts, only the Mount Baker School District has a higher rate.

A total of 59.2% of Mount Baker’s 1,185 students are low-income, according to OSPI.

Ted Lautenbach said the number of families served each week is holding steady.

“When you have a bunch of kids and they’re just wild with excitement because they see they’re going to eat, that’s what keeps me and Diane going,” he said.

As for the project to build a new place for the Nooksack Valley Food Bank, Cohen called the project “a real grassroots effort taken on by the dedicated volunteer directors of the food bank and the community. It’s one of the last food banks that was operating out of borrowed space in Whatcom County.”

Friends and neighbors also are pitching in to build the new space, and that help is expected to keep construction costs under the $300,000 that’s been budgeted.

“Our heartfelt thanks to the community for the help we’ve received so far. We couldn’t have done it without them,” Diane Lautenbach said.

The Bellingham Food Bank not only serves the immediate community, feeding nearly 20 percent of Bellingham in 2018, the non-profit acts as the hub for nearly 12 food pantries and a variety of social service agencies around Whatcom County.

To help

While enough money has been raised to pay for the construction of a new building for the Nooksack Valley Food Bank in Everson, its directors still need $50,000 for new furnishings.

The current furnishings are owned by the church.

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to the Nooksack Valley Food Bank, 2015 Reeds Lane No. 6, Everson, Wash. 98247.

Questions? Call 360-201-8229.

Get food: The Nooksack Valley Food Bank distributes food on Thursdays, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Everson Presbyterian Church, 204 N. Washington St.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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