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Ken McCarty offers a helping hand

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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

pick up.

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: editorl@valleyrecord.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

Newfoundland

Favorite cuisine: Italian, at the moment

Favorite season: Autumn, because of the cooler weather and

changing leaves

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

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