It has been nearly three years since Debbie Love took over as the executive director of the Bonner Community Food Bank, and in that time, she has witnessed firsthand how the needs of the community have continued to grow.
“We have families who are employed but continue to struggle to make ends meet,” said Debbie. “Also, since expanding our Priest River site, we have seen an increase in need with our older population who live on fixed incomes, averaging $750 to $800 per month.”
The good news is that Bonner Community Food Bank has been distributing an increasing amount of fresh produce over the last few years. This past year alone they have given out more than 100,000 pounds of produce. Debbie said this is made possible in large part due to the generosity of the Sandpoint Farmers Market, Sandpoint Community Garden, St. Catherine’s in Priest River, The Grocery Rescue Program, local growers and various community gardens.
“We are also fortunate to have raised garden beds on site at the food bank for the last two seasons. I remember sitting in a meeting with Michelle Murphy (who was starting with Bonner County Coalition of Health at the time and had grant funding for community gardens), and she asked me what my vision was for the food bank. I was unaware of her connection to our local school gardens and told her I would love to see a community garden here at the food bank.”
They immediately went to work, and by May of 2017 there were five raised beds on site, something for which Debbie and her staff are extremely grateful.
“I thank the Bonner County Coalition of Health and Michelle for being the impetus behind the project. We received funding through the Cadeau Foundation in assisting us in expanding and maintaining the garden, and now we have a dedicated volunteer, Roz Holland, who is the garden lead, along with clients and volunteer students from Lake Pend Oreille High School,” said Debbie.
She is pleased that the garden has taken on a life of its own and continues to maintain its momentum. “We currently have nine raised beds and harvested nearly 300 pounds of a variety of produce—kale, green beans, snow peas, carrots, herbs, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli and more.”
Bonner Community Food Bank serves approximately 800 families (1,700 individuals) each month, with anywhere from 25 to 40 new families applying for services each month.
“There are many reasons why people need the food bank. It could be because they are employed seasonally, loss of a loved one, an injury, divorce or an illness,” said Debbie.
Year round the food bank is busy providing food resources to the community, and the holiday season can be especially active with so many families in need and all of the other programs the food bank provides.
“During the holidays we do see an increase in giving and families needing assistance,” said Debbie.
The Food Bank participates in Coats 4 Kids and continues to distribute coats throughout January. They also assist families in receiving Christmas gifts through individual sponsors. This year they provided eight families with gifts for mom, dad and the children within the household—along with providing gifts to three older clients who need a little extra love during this time of year. “They need to know we are thinking about them, and they are not alone,” said Debbie.
The community is especially generous with donations of resources and time. In November, the food bank coordinates their largest event of the year distributing a turkey and some of the fixings that complete a Thanksgiving dinner to families. This year, thanks to the generous community and a donation from Washington Trust Bank, they were able to purchase 700 turkeys. “In addition, we received 300 turkeys from the donations of Columbia Bank branches in Ponderay and Priest River and from generous individual donors and local businesses,” said Debbie.
There were 80 volunteers to help prepare for this day of giving, including volunteers from the Selkirk Fire Department, Sandpoint Police Department, Columbia Bank in Sandpoint, Horizon Credit Union, Boys and Girl Scouts, Panhandle Animal Shelter, Quest Aircraft, Litehouse, Lake Pend Oreille High School, Clark Fork High School, individuals and their families from the local community, and many more.
There are many other ways in which the community helped make this a more joyful Christmas for those in need this holiday season. One such way is how the local grocery stores had pre-made bags of needed items that customers could purchase and the grocery stores delivered to the food bank.
“It’s a convenient way for those that want to give but are unsure of what food items to purchase,” said Debbie.
They also have a Grocery Rescue Program which is an alliance among 2nd Harvest Food Bank and local grocery stores whereby those entities donate food to the food bank that is nearing its expiration date but is still safe to eat, eliminating waste and still providing a variety of fresh foods, especially during the low-giving months of January through July.
While the holidays are filled with food drives and other significant donations, the fact is the food bank is in high demand throughout the year.
“When the holidays are over and people are back into the daily grind, our donations are considerably down. We continue to need canned soups, canned protein items such as chicken, tuna fish, pasta, pasta sauces, canned vegetables, canned fruit, peanut butter, jelly, canned beans (chili, kidney, black, etc.). Other needs include nonfood items as well, toothbrush, toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, socks, hats and gloves,” shared Debbie.
As we enter 2019, it is important to remember that the food bank has an ongoing need. And when you give to the food bank, what you may not realize is you are helping many other local organizations as well.
“We have a food share program where we give to local food programs. We partner with organizations such as the Sandpoint Area Seniors, Kinderhaven, soup kitchens, Sandpoint Teen Center and the Forrest Bird Charter School to assist in our hunger relief efforts,” said Debbie.
For more information on the Bonner Community Food Bank, contact them at 208.263.3663.