Food Bank gives over four decades

anniversary: Thurston County Food Bank honors 40th year of service

ckrotzer@theolympian.comOctober 25, 2012 

Nancy Vineyard remembers thumbing through a newspaper two decades ago and coming across an advertisement seeking volunteers for the Thurston County Food Bank.

“I went down when they were having the Thanksgiving basket,” Vineyard said. “They needed volunteers, so I went down that day and started volunteering.”

Vineyard has spent as many as three days per week stacking and sorting food donations and making food boxes for the nonprofit, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Now retired, Vineyard cut her time to Mondays, and carpools with a core group of fellow volunteers in the sorting facility.

“It’s been very rewarding working down there,” Vineyard said. “I really enjoy the other people and the fact that we are doing some good in the community.”

To celebrate its 40 years, the Thurston County Food Bank administrative staff honored its volunteer force of past and present during a luncheon this year, which attracted more than 325 people.

The food bank gets as many as 6,000 individual volunteers each year. Of those volunteers, about 300 come by every month.

An open house from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 1 at the food bank will be the culminating celebration of the organization’s anniversary.

“We are not raising money, we are celebrating 40 years of service to the community and thanking those people that helped make that a real program,” said Robert Coit, Thurston County Food Bank director.

The food bank serves about 20 percent of Thurston County’s population, Coit said, with 150,122 visits in 2010, serving 31,735 individuals in 12,543 households.

The number of visits is up 159 percent since 2004 with 49,554 visits in 2010. That same year, the food bank served 14,238 individuals from 6,654 households.

The food bank also gave out 10,293 Thanksgiving meal baskets in 2010, up 99 percent from 2004’s 4,557.

There were 9,783 households in Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater served the first half of this year, equalling to 26,280 people including 14,000 children, Coit said.

“The number of people we serve and food has doubled three times in eight years,” Coit said.

The increased need is largely due to the economic fallout of 2008, and the slow rebound of the economy, similar to the economic climate when the food bank started in 1972.

“It was part of a statewide effort that was driven forward by the layoffs at Boeing,” Coit said. “The whole community was supporting the people that were losing their jobs … unemployment was 12 to 13 percent in the Seattle area.”

The layoffs affected communities statewide, Coit said, starting the Neighbors in Need program in 1970. A branch of the program opened in Thurston County in 1972.

Originally a faith-based organization, Neighbors in Need was housed at First Christian Church in Olympia.

The food bank became a nonprofit within five years and created a more diverse board with members from business and private entities.

The food bank changed locations twice before settling on its current location off Thurston Avenue, a location that is quickly becoming too small.

“The strategic plan we have in place may say that we should split our operations and have a facility dedicated to the distribution of food, the flagship food bank, and a second facility to handle our warehouse work,” Coit said.

The biggest challenge facing the facility is the change in donations, Coit said.

In the past, the most common items donated to the food bank were nonperishables: canned vegetables and boxed items.

In the last four to five years, Coit said donations have transformed to more produce, meats and other perishable items.

“We have to change our business model to reflect our new reality,” Coit said. “We have already started that work.”

The food bank has two vans in its fleet that are refrigerated. It also has expanded its freezer and refrigeration space and is getting a generator to protect the food in the case of power outages.

“The days of having a big warehouse with racks have changed to a freezer with racks and turning that product over in a quick way,” Coit said.

Chelsea Krotzer; 360-754-5476 @chelseakrotzer

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