Islanders respond to food bank's plight

Islanders have been responding in strong numbers to news that the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank is witnessing a significant rise in customers and a decrease in food supplies, the director of the food bank reports.

Since a news story ran in The Beachcomber two weeks ago about the situation at the food bank, several drives have been held and more are in the works, helping the small food bank build up its depleted inventory, said Yvonne Pitrof, the director.

"There's been amazing outpouring of generosity from the community," Pitrof said.

Islanders have responded in part, Pitrof believes, because they understand the seriousness of the current financial crisis.

"I think everybody's feeling it to some degree, and it's making us aware of how vulnerable all of us are," she said. "It really is pulling people together; we're realizing we have to help people in the community, and we're doing it. It's very encouraging."

Among the fundraising efforts is one by Eric Heffelfinger, a goldsmith and co-owner of the Silverwood Gallery in Burton, who has put together a basket of certificates and gifts he purchased from several Island businesses and stores — including the Back Bay Inn, Gusto Girls and Kronos. He's also put into the gift basket a piece of his hand-crafted jewelry — a 14-karat yellow and white gold ring with a ruby, valued at $925.

Heffelfinger is holding a raffle for the gift basket, with tickets selling for $2 apiece. The drawing will be held on Monday, Dec. 22.

"I'm very proud of him," said his wife, Margaret Heffelfinger. "That kind of holiday spirit goes a long way."

Two Island businesses are also finding a creative way to help the food bank. Both Island Thyme and Vashon True Value Hardware are offering discounts to customers who donate cans of food to the food bank.

At True Value, customers shopping on Saturday, Dec. 6, will receive a 5 to 20 percent discount on everything they purchase, depending on the number of cans they bring in that day for the store's food drive.

At Island Thyme, in a fundraiser for both the food bank and Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP), customers who bring in two cans of food for the food bank or two items VIPP can use at its new shelter will receive 50 percent off any item $25 or less, owners Tami Renno and Shelley xxxx announced. The fundraiser runs through December.

Meanwhile, the Vashon Island Growers Association and East-West Produce are teaming up for their second food drive this fall. On Saturday, Dec. 6, shoppers at the Farmers Market can drop off non-perishable food or checks at the Langley Farms' booth. Bernie O'Malley, owner of East-West Produce, which sells fruit and vegetables in front of The Hardware Store Restaurant, will help in that effort.

O'Malley and a group of volunteers — "elves," he calls them — will also collect goods and checks Friday night, Dec. 5, in front of The Hardware Store.

O'Malley said the food bank is his favorite Island nonprofit; in the summer and early fall, when he sells produce, he gives his remaining items to the food bank. Lately, though, he's been "seeing the message more and more" that the food bank needs help.

"I decided I better get into action and get something going," he said.

Pitrof, with the food bank, said the need continues to climb — a remarkable escalation in the number of families and households that started in October. In the first week of October, the food bank saw 145 families or households; it climbed to 165 the following week and 173 the week after that.

Last week, she said, the food bank served 209 families — or 527 people, a 40 percent increase over the year before.

She added that she's "happily overwhelmed" by the community's response.

"It's just great," she said.

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