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Filling up the Summer Cupboard: North Bend food bank staff, volunteers face children's hunger gap
As her mother finishes shopping for groceries, a petite girl of 14 finds herself exploring a bin of free books. She comes away with a small trove of good reads, for both herself and her three-year-old sister.
Mom, meanwhile, has collected enough food to give her daughter three good breakfasts and three square lunches for the week. She smiles in gratitude as she and the girls haul away food for body and mind.
With Mount Si Food Bank’s Summer Cupboard wrapping up its third summer, hundreds of children are being fed. Church drives and donations have kept the food coming in, while volunteers keep fine-tuning how they hand it out, ensuring Valley youth don’t go hungry between school bells. It’s a step in the fight against hunger in the Valley.
Started in 2011, the pantry’s Summer Cupboard program provides food every week for children who are get free or low-cost meals at local schools. With about one in ten local children qualifying for those inexpensive school meals, but about 200 getting food at Summer Cupboard, a nutrition gap remains.
Heidi Dukich, director of the Mount Si Food Bank, sees that seasonal gap as a kind of tax on families in need, one she’s keen on lifting. Putting food in the hands of children happens to be the simplest, easiest remedy.
“Groceries are expensive,” says Dukich. “It’s hard to make all the ends meet”
At the Food Bank, “we can rescue food from grocery stores. People can help with food drives,” she adds. “If we can relieve some of the stress, and create healthy families, we’re benefiting the community at large.”
Summer Cupboard began when school ended in June, and will stop when classes resume in September. With three summers of experience, Food Bank volunteers have honed the way they work with families.
On a Wednesday morning in July, experienced volunteer Becky Steidle explains the rules to new recruit Hector Martinez of Fall City.
“I’m nervous, but I can do it,” says Martinez. “I’m good with kids.”
When a parent approaches, Martinez works off a color-coded system to make sure she gets the correct amount of food for the size of her family.
When the Cupboard began, families were simply handed a bag. That’s been changed, when staff found that clients preferred to shop and choose.
“That’s the experience we want them to have,” says Dukich. “I like to select my own children’s food. They get to select their own food, as if they were going to the corner market.”
Clients love the opportunity to choose fresh items. Games like food bingo, and free books keep children entertained.
“Children look forward to coming,” said Dukich. “If you hang out for a bit, you’ll see that.”
School-age children are just one of the food bank’s areas of focus, which also include the homeless as well as anyone in need, through the main pantry.
“I have one that’s in school, and when the big ones come home, I have five,” explains one mom using the program. “I was worried about the extra food.” Summer Cupboard, she adds, is a big help.
A helper, Joanie, volunteers her thoughts on the pride that’s felt here.
“I am so impressed with the community in North Bend, how they volunteer their time,” and give of their plenty.
Joanie’s hands are full of big bags of rice and a box of Lucky Charms, as she helps a food bank client to his car.
Mount Si Food Bank is being helped in its mission by several partners. Valley churches, including Mount Si Lutheran, Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, Snoqualmie Church of the Nazarene and the Church on the Ridge have challenged congregations to gather food. Chase Bank in Snoqualmie helps with a food drive.
On a Wednesday morning, three Realtors from the Windermere agency stopped to donate an oversized check. Their $5,000 donation breaks down to pay for every child’s breakfast served the entire summer.
“They needed a lot of money for these kids’ programs,” explains Realtor Paula Sanford. She and fellow Realtors give from their yearly pay to fund this and other donations. Children and families are a big focus of their giving.
Right now, anyone can help by sponsoring a child or donating needed, kid-friendly items. It costs $12 a week to sponsor a child through Summer Cupboard.
The Mount Si Food Bank website, http://mtsifoodbank.org, also shares ways for people to get involved. Call the food bank at (425) 888-0096.
Windermere Realtors Paula Sanford, Dave Paremski and Don Oster present a $5,000 donation check to Heidi Dukich of Mount Si Food bank. The money pays for every child’s breakfast this summer.