Northwest News

Thurston County Food Bank needs 2,000 more volunteers

Almost 8,000 people volunteer at the Thurston County Food Bank in a year. The food bank needs 2,000 more.

That’s because the food bank is expanding its operations, which served more than 41,000 individuals representing almost 14,000 households in Thurston County in 2013.

“Just come on down; there are so many different ways to volunteer,” advises Carol Vannerson of Olympia. Vannerson, who has been volunteering at the food bank for six years, says when she started, she did whatever was needed that day, but now has settled into the produce department.

Driving the need for more volunteers is the opening of a food bank warehouse in late 2012. The warehouse in Tumwater is where repacking, receiving and large-scale distribution takes place, leaving the downtown Olympia location for client services where people can pick up food.

Volunteers can help with anything from behind-the-scenes office work to helping clients directly, according to volunteer manager Judy Jones.

“We’re actively recruiting,” Jones said. Orientation sessions for prospective volunteers are scheduled on June 2 and 16.

Volunteers commit different amounts of time, from a few hours now and then to regular weekly shifts. In the summer, students frequently join the volunteer corps.

For Vannerson, a typical morning shift will see volunteers packaging three pallets of food. Produce is sorted into crates and a determination is made about how much each client can take.

What Vannerson calls “normal vegetables” — staples like potatoes, onions, apples, tomatoes — are always popular, she said. Unusual vegetables take a few more steps. The food bank has a nutrition program that creates recipes and samples so clients can see how to use different foods.

Recently, the food bank had an abundance of Jerusalem artichokes and cilantro. Nutritionists made a salsa, adding canned black beans, and made samples and recipes available, Vannerson said.

Produce that’s past the point of human consumption is donated to a local pig farm.

Volunteers are needed for an array of jobs, including driving. Satellite program manager Chris Bauermeister supervises deliveries to 30 locations.

“We need people to drive the deliveries and distribute the food,” he said. The food bank partners with church groups and community centers, and it provides the vehicles, Bauermeister said.