Volunteers keep food pantry humming
Because it is difficult for people in the outlying areas and in the county to access programs for low-income people in downtown Spokane, it makes sense to address concerns of people in North Spokane County in their own locations before they reach a crisis.
The North County Food Pantry at 40015A N. Collins Road in Elk is doing that in one of the poorest areas of the county with high unemployment and many seniors, said volunteer Bon Wakabayashi.
The pantry serves people in 99003 Chatteroy, 99009 Elk, and the Spokane County parts 99156 zip code who "shop" for groceries. When people come in, they take a grocery cart and choose items.
The North County Food Pantry is co-directed by volunteers Sandy and Joe Harvey with the assistance of 37 volunteers year round and 45 in the summer with the community garden. They create a welcoming community center, Bon said.
Bon coordinates a volunteer team of information specialists to help elderly and disabled people, and people in financial distress learn how to access programs.
She began by using area resource guides, like The Fig Tree's annual comprehensive one that includes communities to the north, checking websites and talking to organizations about services they could provide for clients.
Some clients have just enough gas to drive to the pantry, she said. A drive to Spokane may be intimidating for someone in stress over a difficult situation, she said.
Bon compiled information that was posted on bulletin boards and put it in a binder volunteers can use to refer clients to the services.
People can talk with volunteers about concerns such as medical insurance, dental care, and paying for prescriptions, hearing aids, prescription eyeglasses and medical equipment. Some need legal advice or advice on caregiving for family members.
Along with volunteers helping veterans apply for benefits, on first Mondays a Spokane Valley Vet Center van brings people to meet with veterans on their needs. They have computer access to military records to provide guidance or challenge if benefits are denied.
Organizations, such as Guardian Angels, regularly send a medical insurance broker to discuss insurance options, helping low income families connect with low-cost medical coverage.
Once a month the Department of Social and Health Services mobile unit comes and Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington sends representatives regularly.
Second Harvest and Northwest Harvest provide food the pantry distributes. Second Harvest volunteers visit to offer nutrition information, samples and recipes using the commodities.
With a Walmart grant of $58,000 six years ago, they built an addition. About that time Second Harvest was remodeling and offered their cooler and freezer. A storage area holds donations of medical equipment—wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and canes—and distributes them to anyone in the community who needs them, Bon said.
Along with commodities, the pantry provides a free lunch, access to showers and laundry facilities, and a media room where books and movies can be borrowed. A community garden outside supplies 2,500 pounds of fresh produce to more than 300 families monthly.
The North County Food Pantry hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Mondays, from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesdays, and from 6 to 8 p.m. second and fourth Wednesdays. They serve lunch to about 50.
Sandy, who grew up in Spokane, said that when she and Joe married nearly 50 years ago, they wanted to live in the country and found a home in Chatteroy. Joe grew up south of Spokane.
Sandy worked 38 years with the U.S. Postal Service. Joe stayed at home raising their two boys until they were older, and then began working at a local foundry.
Darlene Hansen was pantry director for five years before Sandy and Joe took over as co-directors in 2014. They have volunteered for 19 years. Joe receives the freight, keeps inventory and sets up the items. Sandy does the administration and paperwork.
Country Church of the Open Bible next door started the pantry more than 25 years ago. It was also housed at Riverside High School and a nearby Grange until moving to its present location just north of the church.
"We serve about 280 families a month or 725 individuals," said Sandy. "This is one of the poorest parts of Spokane County with high unemployment and a large elderly population. We serve whoever needs food regardless of income. Signs on shelves suggest how much food people can take."
The pantry also distributes government commodities, a senior box with 60 pounds of food—cereals, canned goods, juices, vegetables, fruit, crackers, cheese and instant or shelf-stable milk. About 14 nearby churches supply food, cash and other donations from food drives. Rotary I Deer Park and St. Joseph's Parish in Colbert help.
"Our work is part of my faith. It's God's calling for me to pay back for the good things God has given me. People are so thankful it touches my heart," said Sandy, who attends Chattaroy Community Church with Joe.
She said she has seen miracles:
• One day the cook was out of meat for hamburgers. An hour later, a farmer arrived with a donation of 215 pounds of hamburger.
•At times from February to May the cupboards are bare, but she said "God seems to know what we are out of and provide it. It blows me away."
• A single elderly woman needed repairs for her washer. Someone walked in who could do it.
• Another woman needed a plumber, and a volunteer went home with her and fixed the pipes.
"The volunteers and people who come are like a big family taking care of each other," Sandy said. "In the morning we pray before we open. Many volunteers are big donors. I thank the Lord every day for this opportunity."
After 14 years as co-directors, however, Sandy and Joe want to travel and are looking for someone to take on their roles.
For information, call 238-6464 or visit www.northcountyfoodpantry.com.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2019