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In gratitude, food bank recipients often become donors and volunteers

Julie Delaney

Five of the 80 full-time staff of Northwest Harvest statewide work  in Spokane’s 13,000-square-foot warehouse at 3808 N. Sullivan 15-K.  Northwest Harvest began delivering food in Eastern Washington 15 years ago at the request of several food banks. 

Julie Delaney was hired 10 years ago and worked from her home for three years until they moved into the warehouse.  As statewide director of community engagement, she also works at the Yakima warehouse and the headquarters in Seattle.

Julie said those who use food banks appreciate people’s generosity and often become donors and volunteers, because they know how important it was for them to have help when they needed it.

Volunteers, who give 100,000 hours a year statewide, come as individuals or as companies, churches or sports teams to the warehouse for two-hour shifts.

Katie Huckabee, volunteer coordinator, organizes and schedules the volunteer projects in the food repackaging area for up to 30 volunteers and in the center of the warehouse for up to 50 volunteers during holiday food drives.

• Volunteers help transfer fruits or vegetables from pallets into 15-pound boxes food banks set out so clients can select produce.

• They scoop rice, dried beans, oats, pasta and other dry foods from 50-pound bags into one-pound bags. 

• They sort donated food, checking expiration dates and damage. 

• They also put labels on unlabeled canned goods Delmonte donates because of overproduction or expiration dates.  Codes imprinted on can tops help volunteers identify contents.

Northwest Harvest in Spokane picks up truckloads of cans from its warehouse in Yakima, where Delmonte has a plant.

“Most food we distribute comes from outside our area through our statewide agency,” Julie said.

For example, Northwest Harvest partners with potato and onion growers in Quincy and Moses Lake.  Farmers donate potatoes or onions if they are the wrong size or if the harvest is too plentiful.  They are free if they are donated off the field unpackaged, because it saves the farmers storage or dumping fees, Julie said.  If produce is packaged and in a cooling house, Northwest Harvest pays minimal packaging fees, so farmers do not have to absorb a loss.

One of its initiatives is its “3 Squares” backpack program for Spokane Public Schools elementary children facing hunger on weekends, she said.

Teachers and counselors at six schools select 24 children to receive two packages of food, one for Saturday and one for Sunday. Each package contains food for three meals.  Northwest Harvest offers six menus that rotate every three weeks.  It buys the food to assure it is the right quantity and nutritional content.

The program serves about 250 children a week at a cost of $7,000 per school.

“We hear success stories.  Once families are on their feet with jobs, parents may say they no longer need the food and we should give it to someone else.  Schools have waiting lists,” Julie said.

Aware their outreach is limited, Northwest Harvest teaches churches, food banks and agencies how to do the backpack program.

“The name, 3 Squares, is based on every child needing three square meals a day,” she said.

Julie grew up in the Tri-Cities and came to Spokane to study at Eastern Washington University to be an interpreter for deaf people. She graduated in 1998, worked 10 years in technology and took time off to raise her children before working with Northwest Harvest.

At first, Northwest Harvest brought food in one semi-truck from Seattle to eight food banks and meal programs. Now the Spokane warehouse supports 27 programs in Whitman, Adams, Spokane, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Ferry counties.

Northwest Harvest, which started in 1967—50 years ago—in Seattle, serves 380 food banks and meal programs across the state.   Many food banks they serve also receive food from Second Harvest.

Julie said Northwest Harvest is privately funded, receiving gifts averaging $10 to $250 from individuals and organizations.  It also receives grants from foundations.

“We accept no government funding, because we don’t want to ask people about their situations or eligibility.  Private funding eliminates requirements that come with federal funding,” she said.

“People who come to a food bank are hungry.  It’s not our role to judge them,” Julie said.

Some food banks have special shelves, refrigerators and freezers for Northwest Harvest food, because it can be given to anyone, Julie said.

Each food bank has its own style, she added.  Most have limited hours and days, but the Salvation Army and Spokane Valley Partners are open every day.  Because some rural food banks are open just once a month, they give out more food each time.

Some food banks let clients choose food like at a grocery store.  Others give pre-filled boxes.

In addition to providing nutritious food to hungry people statewide, she said that Northwest Harvest also fights to eliminate hunger by advocating for public policy through its Seattle office.

“We seek to set clients on their feet by protecting funding for the most vulnerable people,” Julie said.

Often people coming to food banks are overwhelmed, “trying to dig out of an endless hole,” she said.  “They need to receive help and resources one step at a time.”

Julie first attended a Baptist church with her family and then they joined a Four Square Church.  She now attends Life Center in Spokane.

“There’s a strong connection between what God says in the Bible about those with resources in abundance needing to care for our neighbors,” she said.

Julie said she seeks to teach her children “to live selfless lives and look for ways to help others, because in helping others, we receive more than we give.” 

For information, call 891-7012 or email

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