Thursday morning played out like the tear-jerker movie scene at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” for Barbara Bennett.
The Spokane Valley Food Bank director went from tears of despair to tears of joy when a steady steam of SUVs, sedans and trucks arrived bearing donations of money, turkeys, trimmings and treats.
“This is so terrific. People are so generous,” said Bennett, who wasn’t the only person moved by the community’s kindness.
On Wednesday, unprecedented need caused the food bank to run out of holiday fixings. With a single turkey remaining, she knew hundreds of families could be disappointed on Thursday.
Faced with that dilemma, Bennett sent out a plea through the media for the community’s help.
Donors flocked to the center and for a rare moment in time, giving outpaced need. By day’s end 400 families had received food baskets, $20,000 in donations was set aside and shelves went from bare to bulging to start the New Year.
“We got over 1,000 turkeys donated today. Families can eat in January. I’ve got a big freezer,” Bennett said.
“This food bank is just really grateful to the community.”
Problems arose after Thanksgiving need required 150 more turkeys than last year. Additionally, a program that provides food baskets for the disabled recently served 75 people who’d never received holiday baskets before. Bennett, who said there wasn’t enough time to recover between the two holidays, also thought she had more turkeys.
She anticipated providing holiday food baskets to 600 to 700 families over a two-day period. Instead, 800 arrived.
Other food banks and charitable organizations around the Inland Northwest also reported an increased demand for food this winter and could use some help.
“Our agencies really are telling us that they are hearing more requests,” said Ann Price of Second Harvest Inland Northwest in Spokane.
Second Harvest usually keeps about 2 million pounds of food on hand for distribution to local food banks, but lately that number has fallen to between 1.4 million and 1.6 million pounds.
“This is always a busy time of year for us,” Price said.
Alice Wallace of the Bonner Community Food Center in Sandpoint said, “We’ve been swamped (with donations). This community is unbelievable.”
Last month her agency served about 3,800 people, with numbers increasing monthly, she said. But she has concerns that donations will plummet come January.
“After the holidays it’s like a faucet being shut off,” Wallace said.
But on Thursday the faucet ran all day at the Spokane Valley Food Bank. By 10 a.m., 150 turkeys had arrived, as one car after another pulled up to the center at 10814 E. Broadway.
As clients lined up outside the back door, many looking weary as the rain poured down, volunteers unloaded trunkloads of food, accepted checks and answered a flood of calls pledging help.
“I read the paper this morning and it (the food shortage) made me cry. I’m very lucky,” said Barbara Simons, a Spokane Valley resident who dropped off several turkeys.
The day became a lesson in giving for Andrea Hood’s three children, Gabe, 10, Abby, 7, and Isaac, 9, as the Spokane Valley kids presented food bank volunteers with several bags of food.
“I think it’s cool. It’s pretty fun,” Gabe Hood said.
Businesses also stepped up – some for a second time. Dave’s Bar and Grill, which had already donated 150 turkeys, kicked in $1,000. Modern Electric Water Co. gave $1,000. Food Services of America pledged a truckload of hams and Inland Meats delivered 80 turkeys.
A woman pulled up in a Ford Ranger loaded with 24 turkeys and accompanying 20-pound bags of potatoes. The tall brunette wanted to give anonymously, and said only that when her husband asked her what she wanted for Christmas she put feeding the poor on her wish list.
As the small food bank filled with people, bags and carts, the phone rang off the hook. A 94-year-old man offered $100 worth of turkeys, but needed someone to pick them up.
Mel Jones, who is in town visiting family, heard about the dilemma and spent the day volunteering. He did the work of five men as he unloaded car after car.
“I’m involved with this kind of stuff in the Bay Area,” he said.
Bob Geiser, whose wife, Maureen, volunteers at the food bank, stopped by with turkeys and a ham, saw the line of vehicles and said, “Isn’t this wonderful?”
Kyle Depetris, a 16-year-old Central Valley High School student, also dropped off a donation. “I felt like it was important to help out. It’s a pretty cool thing. A lot of people are helping.”
While most donations came from Valley people, some were shuttled across town.
Don Saffle drove from the South Hill to make a donation. “There’s so much need out there. I saw this and I just had to give.”