Opinion

Whatcom Cares: 100-year-old Blaine Food Bank volunteer Bert Isackson to get national recognition for his service

Even at the age of 100, Blaine Food Bank volunteer Bert Isackson still rises before sunrise four days a week and arrives at the nonprofit agency’s C Street location to get things ready for the other volunteers.

He’s showing his age, and has physically slowed, but his mind remains sharp, said colleague Jan Westhoff, who wrote The Bellingham Herald to nominate him for Whatcom Cares.

“All of the other people at the food bank will tell you what a great inspiration he is,” Westhoff said.

A former commercial fisherman, gillnetting out of Blaine, Isackson helped create the food bank more than 40 years ago. Now, he lives at the nearby Stafholt Good Samaritan Society, a skilled nursing and rehab center.

“This endeavor has been his passion through all these years,” Westhoff said.

Isackson still arrives at the crack of dawn to brew coffee for the volunteers, then helps sort the canned goods and lays out bags for pickup and distribution. He’s “admired beyond words,” Westhoff said.

Mel Monkelis, a program director with the Volunteer Center of Whatcom County, said Isackson is set to receive an award from President Obama for his service to the food bank. His nomination is being submitted for the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award, an honor reserved for Americans who’ve given 4,000 or more hours of volunteer service.

Monkelis said the Volunteer Center is a certifying agency for the award, which no other Whatcom County resident has earned.

“It is pretty unique, not one that we’re going to give out frequently,” Monkelis said. “When I heard his story, I was floored,” he said.

Although the paperwork for the award was to be submitted this week, Monkelis said it’s a mere formality.

“He’s been with the food bank ever since it started. He used to manage it,” said Jerry Bladies, manager at the Blaine Food Bank.

The food bank serves 375 to 400 families every week in the area around Blaine, Birch Bay, Custer and the rural area east toward Lynden. Its 25 volunteers distribute some 75,000 pound of food a month, Bladies said. There’s no paid staff.

“All the donations we get are used for food and the truck. It’s all volunteer. No one gets paid,” he said. He asks people to donate cash instead of foodstuffs, because of discounts he gets from suppliers. “A dollar goes a long way,” Bladies said.

For his part, Isackson said it feels good to be able to contribute — even at his age.

“They got a regular job for me,” he said, describing how he shakes out the sacks destined to hold food, checking to make sure that they won’t rip.

“I can snap ’em and tell if there’s a tear in there, if they need a double bag,” he said.

Isackson marked his 100th birthday on Dec. 8, and Stafholt workers hosted a party in his honor.

“When I came into the big room and saw what they had done — oh, my gosh, I’ll tell you it was something,” he said.

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