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Regular volunteers help transport food to feed hungry

John Ammann and Chuck Richardson pick up and deliver food.


Chuck Richardson and John Ammann volunteer Tuesdays with Second Harvest Inland Northwest to drive a van to pick up boxes of food from donors hosting food drives.

Chuck, who grew up in Kentucky and came to Spokane in the military in 1964, worked 38 years with the U.S. Postal Service as supervisor of the statistics division at the terminal.

Since he retired in 2008, he has found various ways to volunteer and be involved with the community, including through Kiwanis.

"I just like driving. It's my way to give back to the community," Chuck said. "In the process, I have learned there are many more hungry and homeless people than most people realize."

In November, he helps with Tom's Turkey Drive, which provides meals for thousands of families.

Chuck, who began driving in 2013, brings to this volunteering not only driving but also his knowledge of the city and zip codes to find locations for pickups and deliveries.

John grew up in the Hillyard area of Spokane. During high school at Rogers, he would go with his father when he drove for the Spokane Food Bank, the former name for Second Harvest. John helped his father load and unload the truck.

"I enjoyed doing that," he said.

When he was working for 37 years with Spalding Auto Parts, he took a break from helping with the food bank until he retired in 2016.

"I walked into Second Harvest, said who I was and asked if they needed volunteers. They did," he said.

Jill Wilson, who has worked for nine years as customer services and volunteer/events manager, first assigned him to sort food until they needed someone to drive with Chuck.

She said there are other volunteer drivers. Chuck and John pick up the food drive food on Tuesdays.

Jill, who grew up in Montana and moved to Spokane 33 years ago, previously worked in the hospitality and hotel business.

"I spent my first year here training to be at the front desk by working in operations and getting to know the many programs," she said.

John and Chuck work as a team with Jill and Eric Williams, who is the community partnership director.

"Sometimes if we took five boxes to a group doing a food drive and they fill only one, they apologize," said John, noting that they do not need to apologize because they have provided food that would otherwise not have been available to share with those in need.

"It's fun to do. It can be physical, so I refer to it as the Second Harvest gym," he said.

"I'm happy I 'get' to go to volunteer with Second Harvest. I do not 'have' to do it," Chuck said.

John said, "I tell my wife I'm going to work, because some days I come in to Second Harvest at 9 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m.

"Some days I work five to six hours volunteering, and some days I work three to four hours. It keeps me busy. It's good to do something," he commented.

Eric said John and Chuck have each volunteered 2,000 to 3,000 hours since 2020, including helping deliver The Fig Tree Resource Directories.

John said he appreciates connecting with different groups and seeing what people are doing for the community.

"Many are excited to be part of the process of getting food to people," he said.

Second Harvest has around 20 volunteer drivers and seeks to recruit more.

The nonprofit food distribution agency has six professional drivers who drive the large semi-trucks, hauling food long distances.

Eric was recently at a national meeting of Feeding America, a network of 200 food distribution services to food banks and learned that the situation in Spokane is much like the rest of the U.S.

"Food continues to go out the door faster than it is coming in," he said. "Most of the more than 20 agencies in the Feeding America network are facing difficulties getting food.

"We are fortunate to be where we are, surrounded by agriculture in Central and Eastern Washington. We have many area farmers who donate semi-loads of apples, potatoes and lentils," Eric said. "We are thankful for the generosity of farmers."

Eric said there have been changes to many aspects of Second Harvest's operations, including Tom's Turkey Drive, since the pandemic. Previously, recipients came to one location where the food was distributed.

This year, Second Harvest is working with community partners like the Martin Luther King Jr Community Center, Spokane Valley Partners and several food banks. Second Harvest is delivering the food to those partners to provide food boxes for families.

It means that rather than families driving to a distant location, they can go to a nearby food bank to pick up a box.

"Systemwide we are distributing the same amount of food as we did last year," Eric said.

"It has not been the same since COVID. The virus has changed the world," noted John.

Eric picked up on that point to say that the pandemic has taken the food bank efforts "off the charts" in terms of volatile inflow while there was strong government funding.

"Now the flow of food has settled into more normal distribution," he said. "That amount was 35 million pounds of food last year."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November 2023