Dean Kahn

What can you do to help feed the thousands of hungry residents in Whatcom County?

At most places, business is good when customers increase year by year. But at Whatcom County food banks, that means the number of hungry people isn’t diminishing.

At Bellingham Food Bank, by far the largest in the county, people have come for food more than 160,000 times this year, a 14 percent jump over 2015, the food bank’s busiest year.

Eight years after the national recession of 2008, many county residents still find it difficult to cover their bills without turning to a food bank for help.

“There are increasingly large numbers of individuals and families who, at the end of each month, even if they’re on food stamps, still struggle to get their bills paid and buy the food their families need,” said Mike Cohen, the food bank’s executive director.

Food helps, but cash support goes further.

Mike Cohen, executive director, Bellingham Food Bank

Food banks receive fresh fruits and vegetables from gardeners and farmers during the summer, but it’s also the time children in low-income families lose access to free or low-cost meals at school. Meanwhile, donations of canned and packaged foods typically lag this time of year, Cohen said.

Fortunately, several food drives in the next two months should bring a needed boost in cash and food.

“Food helps, but cash support goes further,” Cohen said.

Hard times still

Earlier this year, United Way released details of a financial analysis of households in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The study tallied people who fall below the U.S. poverty level, plus the “working poor” – those with with low-paying jobs, little to no savings, and one emergency shy of falling into official poverty.

Almost half of our community is right on the edge financially, even if they are working full-time.

Mike Cohen, Bellingham Food Bank

For Washington, 13 percent of households were poor and 19 percent were working poor. The situation was worse in Whatcom County, with 18 percent poor and 24 percent working poor. Whatcom’s total of 42 percent was the third highest among counties in Western Washington.

“Almost half of our community is right on the edge financially, even if they are working full time,” Cohen said.

To better serve the hungry, Bellingham Food Bank has adopted several changes. A new layout lets clients browse for food with shopping carts rather than wait in a single line. That has shortened waiting times.

Last year, the food bank began trucking supplies weekly to the gym at Alderwood Elementary School so people in that part of Bellingham could pick up food. That effort will continue and may be extended to Cordata Elementary this fall, Cohen said.

And working with social service agencies and their volunteers, boxes of food now are being delivered each week to about 70 households.

Upcoming food drives

Laurie Lee Lewis, a musician and farmer in Deming, has organized a food-donation event for Sept. 18 in Bellingham. Along with accepting food and cash, Lewis plans to donate proceeds from sales of her new CD and solo song to Northwest Harvest, a regional food bank distributor in Seattle.

On Sept. 24, two-dozen food trucks will have meals for sale at Civic Stadium, along with music, a beer garden and activities for children. The ticketed event attracted more than 2,000 people and raised more than $16,000 last year, a total then matched by Ben Kinney & Keller Williams Realty, which plans to match this year’s donations, too.

In October, Industrial Credit Union and other local businesses will host a food drive that last year raised $113,000 in cash and more than 75,000 pounds of food. This year’s goal is $150,000, plus food.

“We’re always looking to do more,” said Amanda Ager, the credit union’s marketing coordinator.

Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291

Coming up

Feed Washington’s Hungry food drop-off: 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 18, Unity Spirit Center, 1095 Telegraph Road. Food and money accepted for Northwest Harvest, a statewide food bank distributor. There also will be refreshments, music and arts and crafts booths. Free admission. Proceeds from the sale of Deming musician Laurie Lee Lewis’ new CD and a new song, “Who Will Feed the Hungry?” will support Northwest Harvest. Details: Facebook: Feeding Washington’s Hungry.

Food Truck Round Up: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, Civic Stadium. Features two-dozen food trucks, music by SpaceBand, children’s activities and Kulshan Brewing beer garden. Tickets: $7 in advance at Industrial Credit Union branches, covers entry and commemorative pint glass; $7 at the door, no glass. Free entry for kids 12 and younger. Proceeds matched by Ben Kinney & Keller Williams Realty to benefit Whatcom County food banks.

Community Food Drive: Oct. 17-21, donations of food, money accepted at Haggen stores, Community Food Co-op, Industrial Credit Union branches. Sponsors: Industrial Credit Union, Haggen, Cascade Radio Group.

Food and Meal Resources in Whatcom County: List of food banks, senior meals, free community meals, at, under “food resources.”

The price for tickets at the door to the Food Truck Round Up was corrected Sept. 12, 2016.