LACEY - Food, gifts, pet food and other items took over North Thurston High School's gymnasium floor Thursday, as students sorted through thousands of pounds of donations headed to four charities.
The mass of gifts to the Thurston County Food Bank, the YWCA’s Other Bank, Thurston County Animal Services and seven low-income families was collected over the past month by school homerooms and activity groups such as band.
“We give a lot, but this is the most that it’s been in a while,” senior Kenzie Jasperson said.
“Because we had four different charities, it allowed people to help in any way they could,” senior Kylee Falter said. “If they could bring anything in, it would be covered. Everyone can give something no matter what.”
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Winter break starts Monday, and many schools are ending their winter food drives, which means that for the first time this season, the Thurston County Food Bank is collecting food faster than it is giving it away, said food bank executive director Robert Coit.
“North Thurston did a really good food drive. They are likely to bring in 6,000 pounds of food,” Coit said Thursday. “The high schools have traditionally been one of our core supporters at this time of year.”
The donations come at a good time, he said. Though more organizations have held food drives this year than in past years, the amount of food donations is down between 20 percent and 25 percent, Coit said.
The food bank faces the decline at the same time that demand has increased 19 percent from last year’s figures, Coit said.
“The number of people we serve is so much more. That’s probably one of the reasons that only now we’re starting to bank food,” he said. “About 10 percent of client base is new – it’s the first time accessing the service.”
The recent school donations to the food bank that have already arrived this week and that are expected today have helped fill the food bank’s shelves — but it’s not known for how long.
“I am concerned. Not frightened or anything. That’s why we have cash reserves,” Coit said. “We will be buying more food than we typically have.”
Other organizations also report that the increased demand has put pressure on local services, despite concentrated efforts to increase the number of donations.
“People have been generous this year,” said Randi Miller, director of The Other Bank, which assists people with free soap, detergent and other items that food stamps will not buy. “Someone came in and his personal business did a drive, and he came in with $2,000 worth of products. … Stuff like that will get us through.”
“What scares me is that we’re giving out more than we ever have before,” she said. “Last week, we had 30 more families than we usually have.”
At North Thurston, leadership teacher Ronna Reed told students that the focus during the donation drive should be on community need.
“Ms. Reed at the beginning said, this is not about giving to win a contest. It’s about giving for the sake of giving,” Falter said.
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