OLYMPIA - Volunteers are quietly collecting thousands of pounds of food in the Cain Road neighborhood for the Thurston County Food Bank.
Members of the Cain Road Area Neighborhood Association picked up their second collection last month – an effort that happens on the second Saturday every other month and one they hope will continue. The next collection is Aug. 14.
“What a great and wonderful idea,” said Robert Coit, executive director of the Thurston County Food Bank, who said the neighborhood has collected $4,000 to $5,000 worth of food. Unlike a one-time food drive, the collection is intended to be ongoing. “It keeps the awareness level at a higher point because it’s this ongoing regular thing,” he said.
It all started when neighborhood members Don and MaryBeth Cline visited Ashland, Ore., on New Year’s Eve, and noticed reusable bags strewn on porches everywhere. They discovered the bags were part of the Ashland Food Project, a volunteer effort to collect food for local food banks.
Upon returning to Olympia, they decided to start their own program, just in the neighborhood. They copied the concept from Ashland – right down to using the same design for a bag.
The concept is simple: “Every week, when you go shopping, you buy one thing” just for the collection, MaryBeth Cline said. “Every two months, the bags are picked up and taken to the food bank.”
Not only would the effort help the hungry, Cline said it would help people get to know their neighbors.
Don Cline said that during the process, he collects names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of neighbors. It’s a way to get to know who’s coming and going in the neighborhood.
The first, trial collection took place in April, and netted 1,012 pounds of food, according to the neighborhood association. Another in June ended up with 1,590 pounds.
“Truly, we are just in the beginning stages,” MaryBeth Cline said.
For the next collection, the neighborhood has bought 500 bright green reusable bags. They will be distributed neighbor to neighbor. The goal is eventually for the entire neighborhood to donate, and that will be made easier when people see the bags everywhere.
“The more visibility there is, the more interest there is,” MaryBeth Cline said.
Neighbors don’t collect money, association president Irene Lewis said. Monetary donations should go directly to the food bank.
Coit said the neighborhood collections come at a particularly good time of year.
“Easily 40 percent” of the food bank’s food donations come between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That means the organization has to reach into its own pockets to buy food, particularly in the summer.
In August and September, about 70 percent of food given away was food the food bank bought, not donated food.
Meanwhile, need for food is ever-increasing during the economic downturn. The number of households that visited the food bank jumped 20 percent from 2008 to 2009, Coit said.
He added that the collection method could be copied by other neighborhood associations.
The Cain Road Area Neighborhood Association was established in 1991, after residents became frustrated with development in their neighborhood. “So many trees were being cut down,” Lewis said. “Neighbors were having their basements flooded.”
Over the years, the neighborhood completed safe walking trails to Washington Middle School.
The neighborhood lacks central gathering points. There is Washington Middle School and a couple of churches. One of the most recent additions is McGrath Woods Park, a 4-acre neighborhood park that has picnic tables, a playground and walking trails. Watershed Park also runs through the neighborhood.
There aren’t many issues in the neighborhood, according to residents. Lewis said there have been some burglaries and car break-ins.
“I would say our biggest neighborhood problem is that we don’t know our neighbors,” MaryBeth Cline said.
Lewis said she likes the new roundabout added at Boulevard Road and Log Cabin Road, but she would like to see a sidewalk along 22nd Avenue for safety.
MaryBeth Cline said she has spent 20 years here, and the neighborhood is a mix of old and new.
“We’ve got neighbors that have been here a long time and have new neighbors coming in,” she said. “I’m watching the neighborhood get younger.”
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org