December 28, 1996 in Washington Voices

Food For All Valley Food Bank Can Be Difference Between Dinner And Despair

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spend one Wednesday at the Valley Food Bank, and never again will you respond half-heartedly to a food drive.

A line of unhappy mothers, fathers, grandmas and grandpas snakes up the hallway in the Valley Center of Sharing, which houses the food bank.

The hall is wide enough that if every adult stands tight against the right-hand wall, the little ones can romp. Given the speed of the line - slow - the children need to.

“Why isn’t this line moving?” someone hollers.

“They ran out of food,” replies a jokester up front. Not a chance. He clearly hasn’t seen the food bank’s crowded basement or the walk-in freezer with its mountain of turkeys and bread.

Some of the moms standing in line look so young, they should still just be someone’s little sister. One talks fiercely about how no one, not even her own mother, will take away her children.

Some of the grandmas look so tired, you wonder when they last laughed out loud.

The line may move slowly out in the hall. But inside, a complex ballet is unfolding.

A volunteer is in charge of each section, from the staples to the formula and baby food, from the produce, to the bread and desserts.

“Rice, beans or lentils?” asks Dick Huffman, a food bank director.

“Any babies in your family?” asks Mary McCarthy.

“Could you use some cottage cheese?” asks Madolyn Penney.

Other volunteers fill cardboard cartons with an allotment of canned and dry goods. The supply of cereal is a bit low, so only families with two or more children receive any.

And then there is Harold Buelow. Who is everywhere. Buelow, another director of the food bank, swings bags of bread into place, dogs the empty shopping carts and generally is “my main man,” says Barbara Bennett, food bank manager.

But wait. Let’s back up.

Once each client clears the paperwork booth, they’re in for a treat - Kathy Rudolph, the Gift Lady.

Rudolph could be the top-ranked saleslady at Nordstrom’s.

Every week, she has a smile, a twinkle, artfully pencilled eyebrows and a warm touch on the shoulder for everyone she talks to. More than 150 times on Dec. 18, she welcomes, offers and banters. On this morning, her counter overflows with donated ornaments, jewelry, perfume and other small gifts.

“Could you use a Christmas wreath?” Rudolph asks a young woman. Yes, she could. The wreath is golden, small and attractive. It would go beautifully on an apartment door. By afternoon, Rudoph’s offerings are looking sparse - she’s down to the rolls of Lifesavers. But Rudolph is so merry, the long wait in the hall is forgotten.

Wednesday is the weekly distribution day at the food bank. Official hours are from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Some weeks the doors stay open longer, though, to get everyone in.

Every day is a work day for Bennett.

She organizes orders from the regional food bank in downtown Spokane, makes sure hamburger is delivered on time, handles traffic flow on Wednesday, restocking, secheduling volunteers. The job is endless.

Bennett began her love affair with the food bank five years ago.

She volunteered, then told her employer she wanted to cut back her hours, so she could volunteer more. Now Bennett works part-time for the food bank, part time for the Valley Center.

Ask her how many hours she works in a week, and she answers: “You mean how many hours I work? Or how many I’m paid for?”

Her parents, Lloyd and Ruby Witham volunteer. Her aunt volunteers. Even Bennett’s grandchildren have grown up seeing her involved with the food bank.

Bennett’s background as bookkeeper, secretary, Girl Friday gave her necessary skills for this job. Even so, she says she’s a people person. “You have to be.”

“Once I realized I was happier with the people than with the numbers… .”

Tuesdays, she oversees a crew that hustles boxes and bags of donated food into order. Hours they spend, tackling shopping baskets full of paper and plastic bags.

Tuna - so much canned tuna fish, it looks like a supermarket shelf, except that the brand names are all mixed up - olives, chili, pork and beans, apple sauce, packaged stuffing, Hamburger Helper, dry spaghetti, Spaghetti-o’s, tomato sauce, soups. All those cans that many of us pull from our kitchen cupboards for the Boy Scouts, the Realtors, your children’s food drives at school. Here they are.

Meantime, the line in the hallway is as long as ever.

Peggy Rudolph, no relation to Kathy, is working the sign-up desk for Christmas baskets. The line in front of her desk sometimes reaches out to the cold December afternoon.

“Close the door! Close the door! Ladies, please! Someone close the door!” Rudolph calls. Finally someone does.

This Rudolph, no shrinking violet, is chairwoman of the food bank board.

She’s wise, too.

Wise enough to know that the arguing couple in front of her needs the food inside, more than they need to continue their catfight in this oh-so public spot.

The problem at the moment is that he forgot to bring some proof of residence.

“C’mon now,” Rudolph cajoles. “I know you’ve got something in your billfold. Men always have something in their billfold.”

The woman, scarily thin, is sick. She’s thrown up four times today, she says.

Sure enough, the man finds a paper that will do. The tension eases, and Rudolph escorts the couple to the front of the line.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 photos (2 color)

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FOOD BANK ASSISTS HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES The Valley Food Bank, 11922 E. First Ave., helped about 160 families on Dec. 18, the last Wednesday the non-profit agency was open before Christmas. About 500 families signed up for a bag of Christmas groceries and a turkey, said Barbara Bennett, food bank director. The food bank is for Valley residents. Its hours are Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those who need its services should bring a recent proof of address and Social Security cards for every person in the family. Use of the food bank has skyrocketed since September. So have donations, because of the holiday season. But the need goes on year round. Marny Lombard

This sidebar appeared with the story: FOOD BANK ASSISTS HUNDREDS OF FAMILIES The Valley Food Bank, 11922 E. First Ave., helped about 160 families on Dec. 18, the last Wednesday the non-profit agency was open before Christmas. About 500 families signed up for a bag of Christmas groceries and a turkey, said Barbara Bennett, food bank director. The food bank is for Valley residents. Its hours are Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those who need its services should bring a recent proof of address and Social Security cards for every person in the family. Use of the food bank has skyrocketed since September. So have donations, because of the holiday season. But the need goes on year round. Marny Lombard


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