At the Snoqualmie Valley Food Bank, there’s a place for everyone. All kinds of people get their food there, and the operations are made possible through the work of many volunteers, more of which are needed.
Entering the busy season, going into the holidays, the food bank will be needing more volunteer help and more donations. A wish list of needed items, including things for Thanksgiving meals, as well as a volunteer sign up sheet, can be found online at www.snoqualmievalleyfoodbank.org.
Operations manager Heather Walsh is a mother of four who has terminal ovarian cancer. She said she and her husband sat down and had a conversation and decided working at the food bank was how she wanted to be spending her time.
“This is kinda my path,” she said. “The community has been so supportive of me and I want to give back as much as possible.”
She said the food bank is always looking for volunteers for various jobs, including registration, check out, produce sorting, stocking, organizing, unloading trucks, and even “rescue driving” — when volunteers make a store run to pick up food items donated by local grocers, many of whom contribute regularly through Food Lifeline.
“We get amazing foods here,” Walsh said. “The support we have here in the Valley is extraordinary.”
More than 300 families in the Valley rely on the food bank for their groceries each week, and a visit to the food bank is an experience like visiting a typical grocery store.
Upon checking in, shoppers are greeted with friendly smiles, get a number and then shop the various sections — there’s a dairy department, a frozen aisle, a fresh produce section, and walls of dried goods, snacks and canned foods. They pick what they like, load a cart and check out.
“We really strive to keep this a positive experience for folks,” said Larry Gmeiner, who has been volunteering at the food bank for six years. “It’s really rewarding to be able to help others. We always get as much or more out of this than the people who come get food.”
He said that there’s a misnomer and a stigma, that people expect food bank shoppers to be of a certain background, but really they could be anybody. He said most of the people they get are parents with families, seniors on fixed incomes, local part-time service workers, and community members.
“You hate to see anybody go hungry,” he said.
Becky Sydnor, a volunteer of nine years, echoed that sentiment. She said when she tells people she volunteers at the food bank they ask her if there are really that many homeless people in the Valley, to which she answers that there are not.
“I have a passion for food, and I love our clients,” she said. “They’re not some random person you don’t know. Our clients are all of our neighbors.”
First-time volunteers Debbie Rowley and daughter Ellie, a freshman at Mount Si High School, were working the checkout counter with Sydnor recently. They said their family has a goal to complete more volunteer work.
“It’s an experience to serve in the community. It’s important to look out for our neighbors,” Rowley said. “And I think it’s important for kids to have the opportunity to serve as well, especially around the holidays. It’s important to look out and see the needs of others.”
North Bend resident and volunteer David Olson works on organizing foods into stacks in the back storage area. Carolyn and Don DeVolder sort produce on Mondays.
“I love our team,” Walsh said.
Nikki Lloyd, executive director, said the food bank only has four paid employees and the rest of the work is completed by more than 200 volunteers, about 75 of whom come in almost weekly. She said volunteers sign up to work specific jobs for specific shifts.
“Whoever’s here feels like they’ve made a difference for the day, but they’re not overwhelmed,” she said. “If you are interested, we can find a job for you. It takes a whole team of people.”
Nancy Jones, volunteer coordinator and board president, said they could always use more help.
“Ideally we’d like to have 10 people for each shift, but we don’t always have that,” she said.
In addition to manpower, Jones and Lloyd also spoke on needed food items. They said the items they typically run low on are cheese, butter, eggs, meat and sometimes milk.
The food bank also accepts monetary donations, which they can make go twice as far as the average citizen.
“Every dollar we receive we can stretch to five dollars,” Lloyd said.
Jones also referenced the wish list online as well as the Thanksgiving menu. She said that what’s mainly needed for the Thanksgiving dinners they distribute are the side dishes, especially cranberries this year.
She explained that the food bank gets turkeys for Thanksgiving and hams for Christmas. Walsh said they love to provide holiday meals, and folks just need to sign up for them.
The holiday distribution days for Thanksgiving meals, including turkeys, are set for Nov. 18 and Nov. 20. Walsh said people will get everything they need that goes with a Thanksgiving dinner, in addition to all of their other groceries.
Walsh said using the website to sign up for volunteering or to view needed food items is simple.
She also said that they are welcoming of anyone, volunteers as well as shoppers.