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Ken McCarty offers a helping hand
Coordinating a grocery shopping day is no easy task for most families, but when they have no money for food,
it can be daunting.
One answer to the problem lies in North Bend, where volunteer
Ken McCarty oversees the Mount Si Helping Hands food bank.
Every Wednesday, approximately 150 to 200 families from the
Upper Snoqualmie Valley pick up needed items from the food bank, which
is located behind the North Bend Community Church.
McCarty, 72, has spent 12 years as a Helping Hands volunteer.
He coordinates other volunteers, the purchase of food from
donated money and sorts the donations that come in the door of the
1,500-square-foot building where the food bank is housed. Equipped with a walk-in
refrigerator, several chest freezers and abundant storage shelves,
Helping Hands supplies families with the necessary items for a balanced diet.
Its construction was paid for by donations, and McCarty said it has
been around for about 30 years.
As a retired rocket scientist, he said the reason he puts so much time
and energy into the food bank is because he "sees the need."
And that need fills up at least 25 hours of each week. On
Mondays, other volunteers drive to Seattle in a rented truck and pick up
groceries from Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest organizations that
distribute donated food to area soup kitchens and food banks. Food is also
donated from local grocery stores and restaurants, which volunteers also
Meanwhile, McCarty is busy cleaning up and organizing for
the next day, which is spent setting up grocery stations and preparing the
food. Cub Scout members often help out by bagging what McCarty calls the
"food bank trinity: oatmeal, beans and
rice" into smaller packages.
Then on Wednesdays, about six to eight members of one of the
churches that belong to the Snoqualmie Valley Ministerial Association help
distribute food to the families.
And McCarty is there to make sure everything flows smoothly and to
talk with people.
He said some Valley residents might not be aware of the food
shortage problem that many local families face.
"The people who haven't (lived) around here a long time, they
don't realize how many people need help," McCarty said. "(They) are a
cross-section of the community not what you'd normally think of. These are
just ordinary families."
The majority of those families have children. McCarty has
supplied food to everyone from a Boeing engineer who was laid off and whose
unemployment benefits ran out, to Valley residents with low-paying jobs
or expensive medical conditions.
"I think the biggest thing is that there is no one mold their
reasons to come are varied," he said, adding that he acts as a spokesperson for
the "working poor."
"We've got some real problems in the area with housing," he said,
describing the working poor as those who have low-paying jobs and
high rent, with little money left over for food, clothes and other needs.
Many of the families that show up to Helping Hands try to survive on
an income of less than $10 an hour, he stated.
Volunteer and city of North Bend administrator Phil Messina agrees
that Helping Hands is a necessary "safety net" for the Valley.
"Not everybody is benefiting from our hot Eastside economy," he
said. "I think if you're in the lower levels of the economy, it's hard enough
to pay rent, much less buy groceries and get food on the table every week."
Messina helps clean up the Helping Hands building with fellow
Rotary Club members on Wednesday nights.
"I think he's `Mr. Food Bank,' and I think he's really dedicated,"
Messina said. "He's got a lot on his shoulders."
McCarty learned of charity and caring for others from his father.
In the 1930s, during the Depression, the McCarty family ran a
summer resort and farm. In the winter, when there were no visitors,
they ended up with leftover milk and eggs.
"When I was a little boy, I remember that whenever my father went
into town, he would drop off milk and eggs for the poor people," the man with
a white mustache and laughing eyes recalled.
He got involved with Helping Hands when his friend, Betty
Vaughn, volunteered him more than a decade ago.
McCarty retired to the Valley in 1987. Throughout his career,
he worked on well-known rockets such as the Polaris, Minuteman
and Poseidon, which were used in military and space operations.
The energetic food bank volunteer has been married to his wife,
Anne, for 36 years. She volunteers at the Northwest Railway Museum and
is "Lady Anne," the gatekeeper at Camlan Village in Carnation.
Although the food bank consumes much of McCarty's time, he
belongs to Kiwanis, serves on the city of North Bend's citizens' advisory
committee on flood and stormwater management and is on the housing selection
committee for the Habitat for Humanity homes to be built on
Snoqualmie Ridge next summer.
Since the nearing holiday season is when most people think about
donating to food banks, McCarty has a message: Donations are appreciated
at any time of year.
"People still eat after Christmas," he said. "Actually, our time of
biggest need is March because all of the campaigns and donations are gone."
The Boy Scouts switched their food drive to March, which is a big help, he said.
Valley residents have been very giving, he added, explaining that
the two local high schools participate in a food drive as well.
"We are probably the best-supported food bank in the
area," McCarty said.
Cash donations are accepted and can be used as a tax write-off, he
explained, stating that cash stretches farther because he uses it to buy food
at wholesale prices.
But any non-perishable food donations are accepted and items can
be left in the white box outside the organization's front door. Anyone
with perishable items should call first before bringing them by.
Along with food, volunteers are needed.
McCarty explained that volunteering gives a sense of
accomplishment to people.
"You also have fun. People are surprised at how much fun they
have here and they get to meet a lot of interesting people," he said.
Individuals or groups who want to volunteer at Helping Hands
should call (425) 888-0096 or just walk in and volunteer at 12:30 p.m. on
Mondays and 9:30 a.m. on Tuesdays. Cash donations can be sent to Mount Si
Helping Hands, attention: Treasurer, P.O. Box 123, North Bend 98045.
Valley Portraits is a monthly feature that takes a look at people
who contribute to the community. To suggest someone for an article,
call Michelle Gisi at (425) 888-2311, or e-mail: email@example.com.
Ken McCarty at a glance:
Born: April 20, 1928 in New York, reaised in Milford, Penn., right
on the Delaware River
Education: Bachelor of science in chemical engineering and a
master in science in chemistry from Lehigh University, Ph.D in physical
chemistry from the University of Maryland
One thing not many people know about
him:He attended a two-room school that contained students in eight grade levels
Hobbies: Outside of the food bank, he enjoys traveling
Pet: Benjamin Joseph, a.k.a. B.J., a mix of golden retriever and
Favorite cuisine: Italian, at the moment
Favorite season: Autumn, because of the cooler weather and
Most recently seen movie: "Space Cowboys," which he enjoyed
Strangest thing ever donated to the food
bank: A mess of live fish
What Helping Hands is short on right
now: Baby food, diapers, canned vegetables, soup, tuna and other non-perishables, and
according to McCarty, an assistant for him