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First benefit could help meet demand at tiny, but growing, Fall City Food Pantry

Fighting hunger across the Valley from rooms in a Methodist church, volunteers at the Fall City Food Pantry are, from left, back row, Jon Kummen, Richard Terbrueggen, Andrea Duffy, Joe Farnsworth, Bob Hamerly; front row, Lee Hartman, Lisa Hall, Arleen Eby, Nancy White, Cheryl Duncan, Janet Ewing and Johann Sasynuik. The pantry hosts its first benefit in October.  - Seth Truscott/Staff Photo
Fighting hunger across the Valley from rooms in a Methodist church, volunteers at the Fall City Food Pantry are, from left, back row, Jon Kummen, Richard Terbrueggen, Andrea Duffy, Joe Farnsworth, Bob Hamerly; front row, Lee Hartman, Lisa Hall, Arleen Eby, Nancy White, Cheryl Duncan, Janet Ewing and Johann Sasynuik. The pantry hosts its first benefit in October.
— image credit: Seth Truscott/Staff Photo

The man walked in, quietly handed the $100 bill to a volunteer, then left with as little notice.

The private donation is a ritual that happens a few times a year. It’s only quietly remarked, but means a lot to the two-dozen volunteers on the receiving end at the Fall City Food Pantry.

“He didn’t want a receipt, he didn’t want anyone to know what his name was,” said longtime volunteer Janet Ewing. “He just wanted to give that $100.”

The unknown donator is far from alone. Since opening in 2007, the grassroots pantry has relied on private donations to keep doors open and food flowing.

Demand has grown and supplies occasionally get sparse, but the Food Pantry’s needs are always, somehow, met.

“I get checks from people, I don’t have a clue who they are,” Ewing said.

Like Ewing, Food Pantry founder Richard Terbrueggen is sometimes amazed by the way the Lower Valley food bank has been supported. From its start as an outreach of Fall City Methodist Church, the pantry has grown to help and be supported by the entire Valley.

The Methodists started the food bank, but soon realized the church couldn’t do it on their own.

“We said, we need to make this a community effort,” Terbrueggen said. “The community has been very responsive.”

This fall, the pantry takes its first steps toward wider support with a first-ever benefit. The First Annual Fundraiser, a Saturday, Oct. 8, night of wine, appetizers, art showing and silent bidding at Fall City Roadhouse, will help put the food bank on solid financial ground during rising demand.

Every bit helps

On a typical distribution day, every first and third Wednesday of the month, clients file into the fellowship room at Fall City Methodist Church. They are given menus based on their family size, written in English and Spanish, and can choose among options of food and household goods. Besides an address, no questions are asked of participants. Religion is not inserted, either.

“We don’t question,” Ewing said. “They need help. You know, you can tell.”

Some clients are back in two weeks, some will be gone for a while, then come back.

Last Wednesday, Paul, a Fall City resident, filled up a paper bag with groceries and cereal, enough to supplement his family for about a week. At the last table, he picked up three Special K bars for his three children, then one for himself.

“That way, the kids can’t fight,” he said. “There’s one for dad.”

This was his second visit to the food pantry. Off work for more than a year thanks to a knee injury, the former cabinet-maker calls the food  pantry “a fantastic situation.”

Pondering an uneasy future, Paul says coming here was an easy decision.

“Every little bit helps, big time,” he said. “It comes in very handy when you’re on limited funds.”

Alongside groceries, lunch is served. Last week clients chatted at tables between bites of pizza and watermelon and sips of juice. When things wound down, Johann Sasynuik, a volunteer who does a lot of the heavy lifting for the food bank, improvises some jazzy tune on the piano: “The hauling the corn up the stairs blues.” He plays “when they ask me, or when the muse strikes me.”

Since its founding four years ago, the food pantry has seen big changes. Originally, it was a church function.

“We thought, ‘What can the church do to help the community, other than weddings, funerals, baptisms?” Terbrueggen said. “There’s a need for helping families here in Fall City.”

Business was small at first, but grew more and more quickly.

“We started out with three or four families,” Terbrueggen said. “Then the next week, it grew a little bit.”

“We’re way busier now,” Ewing said. “When it started, it was kind of skimpy. Donations were skimpy. All of a sudden, it was like the floodgates opened. People came, money started coming in. Food comes in. It’s amazing to me.”

“The first three years, it was difficult,” Terbrueggen said. “People would come through and our supplies would just drop. We’d begin to really worry about it—where were the supplies going to come from? But we’ve never been without.”

Volunteers never had to dig into their own pockets, he said.

“There’s a need and people are giving so you get back what you give out,” Terbrueggen said.

Every year, demand doubled, reaching its peak last winter with about 100 families coming for food. Demand dipped to about 70 families this summer, but volunteers expect it to climb again this fall.

Most clients are from Fall City, some come from Carnation and Duvall, and there are a surprising number of Snoqualmie and North Bend residents.

Until last summer, the food pantry didn’t get help from big outside agencies. It was recently accepted by Northwest Harvest. The big food-bank supplier now provides some perishables and bulk products, freeing up resources.

Volunteers, about 20 in all, have long relied on private donations and school drives. But a lot of food must still be bought. Cash donations are banked with food purchases in mind.

For now, storage needs are met at the church, and equipment is provided by grants and local donations. But Terbrueggen isn’t sure what would happen if demand keeps growing. He’s waiting to see what the results of the October benefit night are.

While the Fall City food bank is modest compared to some Valley charities—Mount Si Helping Hand Food Bank in North Bend helps about 300 families a month—volunteers see it as an important outreach.

“I feel like we’re helping people. When they pick up their things and leave, they stop and say ‘thank you.,” Ewing said.  “I feel good about it.”

Gala fundraiser

Fall City Community Food Pantry’s First Annual Fundraiser is 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Fall City Roadhouse.

This event will spotlight arts and services, food and wine from local businesses in the area. Auction items are being sought. To donate or learn more, call Noma Edwards at (425) 222-3805. Tickets will be available at Creative Business Advantage & Hauglie Insurance reception.Learn more at fallcityfoodpantry.org

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