Fifteen people had already lined up outside the Thurston County Food Bank in downtown Olympia just before 8 a.m. Monday morning, three hours before it was scheduled to open for its annual Thanksgiving basket giveaway, Executive Director Robert Coit said.
So the food bank opened three hours early, allowing people inside the warehouse at 220 Thurston Ave. NE as wind and rain swirled outside. By 9, close to 50 people were in line, Coit said.
Inside, they waited in another line for one of 3,000 prepared baskets with a turkey and all the trimmings. Coit said volunteers were prepared to begin packing more baskets if needed.
“This is our signature event,” he said, citing the enormous effort volunteers put in to pull it off. Six hundred volunteers prepared food baskets on Saturday and Sunday, Coit said. The basket giveaway continues from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday.
The recipients were ever-appreciative for the baskets, which include some combination of turkey, green beans, gelatin, fruit cocktail, stuffing, potatoes, apples, sweet potatoes and pie crust.
“This is very important,” said Tara Guy of Olympia. “We would not have one (Thanksgiving) if it weren’t for them.”
Guy, like 27 percent of food bank households, has a job. But she needs a little extra help to put food on table this holiday season. She’s having her six children and one grandchild over, “and this is going to be our Thanksgiving meal.”
Deanne Boyd said she’s volunteered for the food bank for 15 years. But this year, she’s a recipient.
“I work two jobs and have two students in school,” said Boyd, who also took a paid job at the food bank this year. She said she’s also taking in three extra college students for Thanksgiving dinner.
“We’ll invite everybody who needs a place to be,” she said.
She said the meal would otherwise cost her between $40 and $75, depending on how nice it is. “You want to do something special, be thankful for getting together, you know?
“It’ll be a fun time. We’ll sit and play board games, but the food is what makes it.”
Turkey is more expensive this year due to the drought in the Midwest, Coit said — $1.09 per pound versus 82 cents last year.
Baskets are also fanning out to satellite distribution locations throughout the county.
Thanksgiving is the peak time for the food bank, but it’s busy all year long. Coit said some 6 million pounds of food will be processed this year. “It’s crazy,” he said.
The food bank serves people not only through its downtown and 19 satellite locations, but through 14 mobile sites. It distributes backpacks full of kid-friendly food to schoolchildren who receive free and reduced-cost school lunches so they’ll have something to eat over weekends. And it has a summer food program for when they’re out of school.
Demand increased during the recession, but Coit said he doesn’t expect it to level off when the economy recovers, because the county’s population is growing.
“People are coming more often,” he said. “That’s definitely the case, and larger families.”
He said households are larger because people are moving in with others due to their housing situation.
But Coit said that “morale’s better” than at the depth of the recession. “I think there’s a little bit more optimism.”Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor