Troubled Vashon food bank gets a huge shot in the arm

Kelli Brown hoists a box onto the now full shelves at the food bank. - Susan Riemer/staff photo
Kelli Brown hoists a box onto the now full shelves at the food bank.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/staff photo

Children have sent in their allowance. Countless food drives have taken place. And one anonymous donor made a $20,000 gift in memory of Sylvia Gregg.

Such has been the outpouring since word traveled across the Island that the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank was facing some of the emptiest shelves and longest lines in its history.

All told, the small food bank at Sunrise Ridge garnered a record $45,000 in cash donations in November, not to mention boxes upon boxes of non-perishable food — a show of support that food bank director Yvonne Pitrof called “overwhelmingly, beautifully heartwarming.”

Pitrof said she wished she had a comprehensive list of everyone who had given recently. “It’s like everybody.”

The support has been creative and community-wide.

One recent Saturday, True Value offered discounts to people bringing in food donations for the food bank. The result was 600 pounds of food, according to owner John Yates, who credited cashier Jessie Linelle with coming up with the idea.

Paul Motoyoshi, best known for the nourishing soup he sells at the Farmers Market, plans to start serving miso soup to people standing in line as they wait their turn at the food bank, an offering he wants to make as often as he can, Pitrof said.

Vashon Print and Design has a donation box at the store, as does Movie Magic; the sheriff’s substation recently set one up, and US Bank is collecting food, too, and has set up a donation account for the food bank, Pitrof said.

Before Thanksgiving, The Brown Agency donated vouchers for turkeys, and Thriftway donated its leftover turkeys after the holiday. Thriftway is also offering its annual Care Card program and will match donations made at the check-out stands up to $5,000.

At the Farmers Market before Thanksgiving Bernie O’Malley of East-West Produce and Leda Langley of Langley Fine Gardens collected contributions from shoppers and received more than $2,000 and some produce. The Farmers Market contributed a bit more than $200 also that day from the pumpkin pie sales in the annual pumpkin pie contest. They collected food and cash again the following week.

The owners of Partners Crackers of Vashon, Marian and Tom Harris, recently donated a pallet of their crackers.

Like businesses, Island artists have found creative ways to assist the food bank and those it serves.

At Silverwood Gallery, Eric Heffelfinger created a gift basket, complete with a custom white and yellow gold ring with a ruby that he crafted.

When he approached businesses to buy tickets or gift certificates to include in the basket, he was struck by the generosity of the business owners, he said, who often gave more than he was asking for — a gift certificate for $50 when he had paid $25 or 20 tickets to an event when he had purchased 10.

The basket — raffled off on Dec. 21 — brought in $1,607, a “huge success,” Heffelfinger said.

Steve Roache, owner of Aruba Tiles, held a tile workshop at his studio as a benefit for the food bank.

Island schools pitched in, too. At Chautauqua Ele-mentary School, physical education teacher Rochelle Wolfe had each student bring in one can of food after Thanksgiving.

The kids used them to pump their muscles and learn about nutrition, according to a note Wolfe sent home with the kids. All the food will soon be donated to the food bank.

Some third-grade Chautauqua kids baked dog biscuits and donated them for Island pooches who might otherwise have gone without.

The Harbor School had a food drive, too, and the 4/5 class from the Vashon Maury Cooperative Preschool collected food and took a trip there two weeks ago.

Vashon Kiwanis and Rotary have also contributed, with Kiwanis donating $1,000 and Rotary members raising funds and helping with the food bank’s November food drive.

The Boy Scouts donated the leftover Christmas trees from their sale, and Camp Fire kids donated, too.

But it was not just those service-oriented groups that donated, Pitrof said. Smaller groups — quilting groups and walking groups — also pitched in, offering both food and cash.

Proving that yoga is good for the community as well as the individual, Sam Scherer, a Vashon Park District yoga instructor, offered “Yoga for the Dogs” on Dec. 14.

The admission fee was by dog, cat or people food for the food bank.

Despite the snowy weather, yoga students donated more than 200 pounds of pet food and $100 in cash. He is planning a second event in February: “Yoga for the Love of it.”

Families and individuals have also contributed in remarkable ways.

One man received his first paycheck after not working for a year while he underwent cancer treatment and bought enough food to fill up his truck, Pitrof said.

Some families have decided not to give gifts this year but to donate the money they would have spent on gifts to the food bank instead. In one family, it was two teenage girls who decided on that response, Pitrof noted.

Others, both adults and kids, have held holiday parties and had guests donate to the food bank.

Other donations have come in as memorials to people who have died recently, Pitrof said, such as the $20,000 gift in honor of Sylvia Gregg, a longtime Islander who passed away last month.

O’Malley, who refers to himself as a food bank elf and was in action during the farmer’s market collections as well as other times, may be the most visible person donating to the food bank this season.

Many have seen him at the four-way stop in town, in a Santa hat, and collecting for the food bank, sometimes alone and sometimes with other food bank elves.

He has made large information posters about the food bank and has collected on a number of days in these last weeks, with the smallest donation being $1.50 in quarters and the largest a $1,000 check, he said.

He received several checks in the $50 to $100 range, he said, a $250 check and a couple for $500.

“And we hardly ever held up traffic,” he said about the donations. “We tried to get it all done in 10 seconds.”

Pitrof is clear that these donations, and all the others not mentioned here, have made a world of difference during this time when food banks across the country have seen their food supply lines vanish and more people in need.

The food bank serves about 200 Island families each week, a little more than 500 people according to Pitrof, and the numbers are climbing.

In one recent month, she said 32 new families came needing food, up considerably from the typical 8 to 15 new families that usually need assistance.

To feed this many people, the food bank donates 20,000 to 30,000 pounds of food each month, Pitrof said, a task that seemed much harder just a short time ago.

Donations always go down after the holidays, and Pitrof knew they needed to stock up now to get through the traditionally lean months of January, February and March.

“This makes such a huge difference. We were definitely worried a month and a half ago,” Pitrof said.

Donations are still welcome and encouraged, as 2009 is predicted to be a difficult year for many.

“We want to keep our doors open and feeding people,” Pitrof said.

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