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New Bellingham Food Bank program a win-win for local farms and local needy

It may be halftime in America, according to Clint Eastwood's now-famous Super Bowl ad for Chrysler, but that doesn't mean everyone is stuffing their belly while watching the game.

Despite some upbeat national economic news in recent weeks, Bellingham Food Bank recorded two of its busiest days ever in late January.

That comes on the heels of the food bank's busiest year ever in 2011, with 2010 the next busiest year, and, well, you get the idea.

"It really started to skyrocket in 2007," said Mike Cohen, the food bank's executive director. "We're seeing no signs of diminished need for our food bank; we're seeing the opposite."

That's why food drives are vital throughout the year, not just during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, when donations to food banks traditionally spike.

To help, the fourth annual Heart for the Hungry food drive was held Feb. 4 at the Lakeway Fred Meyer and the Barkley and Ferndale Haggen stores. The food drive is just wrapping up, but so far more than 4,000 pounds of food and more than $5,200 have been collected.

I solicited donations at Lakeway Fred Meyer for a few hours because The Bellingham Herald was one of the sponsors, along with Haggen, Fred Meyer, Copy Source, Bank of the Pacific, Motor Trucks and Signs Plus.

Because hunger never takes a break, Bellingham Food Bank has worked hard in recent years to diversify its sources of food and donations. Recent efforts include a food bank farm, community garden produce, and gleaning at local farms and orchards.

Businesses and other groups can become a "Milk Money" sponsor by raising $750 or more in a month for milk for hungry kids, and can become a "Food4Tots" sponsor by raising $1,000 or collecting 1,000 jars of baby food in a month.

In a new program, three sponsors - Logos Bible Software, The Unity Group and Bellingham Bay Rotary Club - have agreed to donate at least $5,000 for fresh, locally grown produce for food bank users.

With the money, the food bank has contracted with three local farms - Boxx Berry Farm, Broad Leaf Farm and Growing Washington's Alm Hill Gardens - to grow produce specifically for the food bank.

Thanks to the donations, the farms have a guaranteed customer in the food bank, and people who come to the food bank will enjoy fresh Whatcom County produce.

"We know there are other farms out there eager and willing to be involved," Cohen said.

An earlier pilot program with local farms was funded with state grants and with money from Whatcom Community Foundation. This is the first time private sponsors have paid the tab.

So if you have a spare $5,000, give the idea some thought.

If you don't, the next community food drive will be the letter carriers' Stamp Out Hunger food drive May 12.

WAXING POETIC

Valentine's Day is Tuesday, so I hope you've made plans to tell people you love that you love them. In honor of the day, The Bellingham Herald on Monday will again publish Valentine poems from Whatcom County residents with love and poetic inspiration in their hearts.

More than 30 poems were submitted. There's not enough room to publish all of them in Monday's paper, so be sure to check online if you want to read all of the poems.


DETAILS

Bellingham Food Bank can be reached at 360-676-0392 and bellinghamfoodbank.org.

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