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Braving the rain for a cause

Sun., June 8, 2008

With food prices soaring – along with the numbers of struggling area families needing help – food bank operators were hoping a vintage car show and concert Saturday would start filling the shelves.

The skies didn’t cooperate. The second annual Millwood Classic Cruise to End Hunger ended early, about noon, when sheets of chilly rain continued to fall in the parking lot outside the Millwood Albertsons at 8843 East Trent Ave. But 52 cars – from Model T’s to muscle cars – showed up in the morning and the food drive collected $798 and about 600 pounds of food, said Suzie Stacey, of Spokane, a member of the Inland Empire Model T Ford Club of Spokane. Her husband, Alan Stacey, helped open Cheney’s food bank in the 1970s.

“We packed the Dairy Queen pretty well,” laughed Suzie Stacey of the volunteers’ efforts to keep dry Saturday during the benefit for Second Harvest Inland Northwest, which serves hungry people in 21 counties in Eastern Washington and five in North Idaho.

Food from Second Harvest helps fill a widening nutrition gap for the working poor, elderly and disabled, and children of families in crisis.

The Model T club has sponsored the food drive for several years, and it’s always held just before school gets out – when children eligible for the schools’ free and reduced-price lunches face a long, hungry summer.

“We do this for the kids. These families need help,” Stacey said.

Nonprofits had to regroup quickly this year after the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which had helped the region’s poor and hungry for 112 years, closed in February because of financial problems. It was Eastern Washington’s largest direct provider of food to the needy and had been doing 27 percent of all food bank business in Spokane.

Its clients were referred to Second Harvest, the region’s food warehouse and distribution center, and the Salvation Army.

This spring the hunger situation in the Spokane area worsening, said Rod Wieber, director of donor and community relations for Second Harvest, which has a $2.87 million annual budget and distributed 13.3 million pounds of food last year.

Until recently an average of 15,000 people a month sought help from area food banks. A survey conducted at Second Harvest’s food banks two months ago showed 10 to 30 percent more people using emergency food banks.

“This challenges us to meet the need,” Wieber said.

Four in 10 people using food banks are children younger than 18. People need only to make a “declaration of need” when they visit a food bank and show proof of local residency, such as a utility bill, Wieber added.

Today, in a further effort to meet the growing need, Second Harvest and the Northeast Youth Center at 2121 E. Wabash Ave. are opening the first Kids Café in Washington.

Hundreds of school-age children from low-income neighborhoods will get free snacks, including dairy items and other protein-rich products, juice, fresh fruits and vegetables during the summer.

Second Harvest will provide donated fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement the youth center’s existing U.S. Department of Agriculture Summer Food Service Program.

When school starts this fall, the center will continue to serve afternoon snacks to more than 100 children a day.

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