The holidays are a time for family and friends to gather around the table, share a meal together and count their blessings.
But for many families, the cost of putting out a meal on a daily basis – let alone a big spread on the holidays – can be a challenge. This is why food banks in the West Plains are planning special holiday meals.
For 50 years, the Cheney Food Bank has been providing meals for the hungry. It started with one family a month in 1958 and now serves about 100 families throughout the 99004 ZIP code.
“In the early years, we were nothing but a checkbook,” said John Matthews, food bank director.
Now, the food bank also offers a clothing exchange. In the office next door, Cheney Outreach can help families with emergency funds.
Matthews estimates that about two-thirds of its food comes from the Cheney community. The other third comes from Second Harvest Food Bank, similar to many food banks in the county.
He said major food drives are being held by Eastern Washington University, churches, schools, businesses including Curves, Safeway, the Cheney Trading Co. and Mitchell’s, the Cheney Care Center, and local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
“They give us good support,” Matthews said.
They also receive items from these drives that the food bank’s clients can’t purchase with food stamps, such as toilet paper, toothbrushes and shampoo.
Every client who visits the Cheney Food Bank receives laundry soap and toilet paper.
“It’s really easy living in Cheney,” Matthews said. “They are unbelievable in support and the volunteers get a good word out.”
This holiday season, every client who comes in during November gets a holiday basket that includes a turkey and all the fixings. In December, clients get a choice of a turkey or a ham.
Clients must bring photo identification and proof of residency to benefit from the food bank in Cheney. Clients will be asked to sign an agreement stating that their income is within a certain range. A family of four must make less than $39,220 a year.
In Medical Lake, the food bank gets funds from its Care and Share thrift store in the same building. Clothing, blankets, baby clothes, dishes and other kitchen items are donated to the thrift store and sold at a bargain – jeans and shirts are 99 cents, jackets are $6.
The 100 or so families served by the food bank receive bags of food proportioned for the family.
“It depends on the number in the family,” said Duane Wolfe, food bank board president.
Various groups throughout the city hold food drives, such as Medical Lake High School alumni and the Boy Scouts.
“All of the food stays here in Medical Lake,” said Fran Smith, the food bank’s director. “Medical Lake people are the most generous people.”
Wolfe said that at any point in time, the food bank is in need of dry goods such as cereal or Hamburger Helper. The agency will always find a place for donations, he said.
The food bank also offers outreach for when times get tough. It can provide emergency funds for electricity, water and sometimes rent.
“It depends on the situation that comes in,” Wolfe said.
For Thanksgiving, the food bank is receiving 70 turkeys from Second Harvest, many of which are donated through Tom’s Turkey drive at Rosauers Supermarkets.
At Christmas, clients will get hams or turkeys with all the fixings.
The food bank, founded in 1980 by the Rev. Bernard Schiller of the St. Anne Parish, has been located in a vacant garage, at St. Anne’s and its present location in the old Episcopal church. The food bank purchased the building with help from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There are around 18 volunteers at the food bank and 12 at the thrift store.
To qualify, Medical Lake residents must bring in photo identification, proof of residence and proof of income.
Clients visiting the food bank, which is run out of the Airway Heights Baptist Church, can get bags of food every two weeks. Ninety percent of the food is from Second Harvest and 10 percent from private donations and church funds.
The agency serves around 130 families, and 20 to 30 volunteers help sort and distribute food.
In October alone, the food bank served around 724 individuals.
“That’s quite a crowd,” said Andy Austin, food bank director.
Austin said the food bank distributes a lot of produce. Families get around three heads of lettuce, five pounds of apples, and in the spring and summer months, around 10 to 20 onions.
Austin said the food bank’s location, right along the highway in Airway Heights, keeps it visible.
Anyone wishing to donate food should call the church office first to make sure someone is there to receive it. Donors can get a tax credit, Austin said.
The food bank will have a special distribution day Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for Thanksgiving meals.
Clients must present photo identification and proof of residence, but no proof of income is needed in Airway Heights.