Nonperishable food items and monetary donations can be left at the Lake Chelan Mirror office, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. For larger quantities food donations contact the food bank at 509-368-4151.
CHELAN - In the beginning, there stood a bookcase. Set inside the door of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church parish hall in Chelan in 1982, the small set of shelves housed rice, beans and canned goods. The brainchild of Reverend Gary Jones, this humble bookcase supported the food bank that helped feed almost 1,000 local families within two years. Just five years later, Jones’ efforts outgrew the bookshelf and his church bought a small building that became the Lake Chelan Food Bank.
Now, 40 years later, volunteers have invested time, food and love into the bank so that those in need can reap the generosity of others interest free. This year, the bank celebrates four decades of helping the small community nestled along Washington’s biggest lake.
“We’re helping the needy and serving the community and that’s all about what we do,” said Richard Springer, director of the LCFB.
The food bank’s current “bookcase” is located on 417 South Bradley Street in Chelan and distributes food every Tuesday and Saturday morning. The ministry has been thriving. Last year, LCFB served 6,173 families and 21,175 individuals. Of those families, 372 were new clients. Over 282 tons, 566,990 pounds, were given out in a total of 8,176 boxes. The food bank serves an average of 60 families on Tuesdays and 100 families on Saturdays.
“The food prices are what’s driving the people in. I get reports from all across the United States,” Springer said, referencing data from sources including Food Lifeline, the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture. “With food prices being up and gas prices, you can afford one or the other.”
Chelan-Douglas County Community Action Council teams up with Second Harvest Inland Northwest in Spokane to gather the food. A non-profit, Second Harvest buys and obtains food from many major manufacturers in the U.S. They then ship the food to Wenatchee and from there it is distributed to 22 food banks between Chelan and Douglas counties.
Many other different sources supplement the food bank’s coffers to keep them full. People make cash donations so Springer can buy any needed items. Large grocery stores such as Safeway and Walmart donate excess food to the effort including chicken, salads, breads, meats and frozen goods. Occasionally, Springer even receives some surprises.
“One time after one of the holidays (Safeway) sent us all these pots and Easter decorations. We had bunnies and all kinds of stuff. It’s just amazing what we get from them,” Springer said. “It’s a very symbiotic relationship.”
The food distribution has changed over recent years. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, clients were able to enter the building and mingle with volunteers. Now, the bank has switched to a drive-thru system with cars lining up behind the building. Food distribution starts at 9 a.m., so volunteers begin filling the cardboard boxes around 8:30 a.m. Each family or individual receives one box which holds 40-50 pounds of food. On average, each box contains one can of vegetables, a can of fruit, pasta, flour, dried beans or rice, dairy, meat and other food items depending on availability.
Carriers then load the boxes on pallets to distribute to the cars. Volunteers deliver some food to nursing homes as well.
Springer ran a grocery store meat department with 27 employees in Lynwood, so managing cheerful food bank volunteers is second nature.
“This is just a small grocery store to me. I’m in my element,” he said. This is easy for me. It’s just directing people. A lot of these guys and gals, they’re really committed to it, God bless them, and it is something they can contribute to the community.”
While food is essential, the true lifeblood of the bank is those volunteers of which Springer has 85 on his list. One volunteer is Ken Gross, who has spent many years helping with a food bank in Everett before moving to Manson earlier this year. As he relocated east of the Cascade Mountains, he half-expected a west side prejudice.
“You know, you say 425 on your phone number and people go ‘Oh.’ I’ve had nothing but politeness and appreciative people and plus they like seeing a couple of younger guys,” he said. “I’m 62 and I’m like the babe around here, but I can yard stuff up to the top shelf.”
A social creature, Gross has fit right in with the volunteers. He views the bank not only as a way to help, but also meet new people, whether they be volunteers or folks picking up food.
“My mom just was always into community service, blood bank and all that stuff,” Gross said. “I just followed in her footsteps.”
Community implies a reliance on one another, and Springer sees the LCFB as a key source of that support. He referenced a large banner hanging outside the bank which reads, “Helping Those in Need.” The food bank can’t do everything, Springer said, but it can do something.
“We are here to supplement their food budget. We are not their primary source,” he said. “Everybody says, ‘Thank you.’ It does warm the heart. We’ve actually acquired volunteers from our guests. We’ve had people come through and they go, ‘Do you need help?’”
The answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes.’ Sue DeLong of Chelan Falls has volunteered with the food bank for 17 years. She sees the ministry, like that small bookshelf in Chelan from 40 years ago, as an important conduit to support others.
“You should give of your time, really. I just feel you do those kinds of things,” she said. “You’re helping people who need it. I mean, what more could you ask?”
If you are interested in volunteering with the Lake Chelan Food Bank, contact Richard Springer at 509-368-4151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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