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Critical turkey time

Food banks worry they won’t have enough birds for boxes

Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank director Barbara Bennett received a shipment of food Monday for her weekly food distribution, but she’s already casting a nervous eye toward Thanksgiving.

More people than ever are expected to sign up for a box of Thanksgiving food and Bennett is concerned that there won’t be enough food or turkeys to go around. She’s pinning her hopes on several food drives that are in progress or are scheduled between now and the holiday.

Local Dollar Tree stores are encouraging their customers to buy items for the food bank and the effort has been successful, Bennett said. Several churches also are competing to see which congregation can donate the most turkeys.

Several local high schools are in the midst of food drives. Central Valley High School just finished theirs, and the results fell short of expectations. Students were hoping to collect the equivalent of 71,440 pounds of food but fell short of their goal and collected $10,561 and 16,000 food items, for a total equivalent of 56,561 pounds.

The biggest effort will be the “Fill the Bus” campaign scheduled for Nov. 21 at the Liberty Lake Albertsons, the Safeway at Evergreen and Sprague, the Albertsons at 32nd and Highway 27, the Yoke’s at Sprague and Adams and the Fred Meyer at Sprague and Sullivan. Central Valley middle school students will be at those locations from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to collect food.

All the locations are stores that regularly support the food bank with donations of items that are close to their sell-by date. Some of the stores send donations over four or five times a week. On Monday, Bennett received a shipment from Rosauers that included oranges, lettuce, eggs, yogurt, cheese and baked goods. “It’s stuff we typically don’t get donated,” she said. “Our stores are very good to us.”

The “Fill the Bus” drive is especially critical in providing the food bank with turkeys, Bennett said. The best-known turkey collection effort, Tom’s Turkey Drive, sends donated turkeys to the Salvation Army. Turkeys are distributed to other agencies only if the Salvation Army has some left over, Bennett said.

“Other agencies are fully left to get their own,” she said. “If we didn’t have the middle schools doing that (drive), we wouldn’t have turkeys at all.” If people want to make sure the Valley Food Bank gets a donated turkey, it must be given to the students during the “Fill the Bus” drive or dropped off at the food bank.

By early this week, 490 people had signed up to receive food for Thanksgiving. The food bank usually serves between 700 and 800 families per month, but two of the last three months have seen more than 900 families come in the doors. Last year the food bank handled more than 800 for Thanksgiving. “I’m expecting closer to 900,” she said. “We’re already way ahead of last year. We know demand is going to be way up.”

It’s a trend that has been obvious for months. The food bank needs more and more donations just to be open for two distribution days a week. “Last week we gave away 14 tons in the two days we were open,” Bennett said. “I don’t know where the end is.”

There is one bright spot. The food bank is completely moved into its new food warehouse, so food can be unloaded and moved with ease. Monday’s unloading of several thousand pounds worth of food from Northwest Harvest was a case in point. The shipment comes in once a month and previously Bennett would have hired a Department of Corrections crew to spend several hours unloading the truck by hand, one box at a time. On Monday, Spokane Valley Partners CEO Ken Briggs spent a few minutes expertly using a forklift to unload the truck, a pallet at a time. The pallets destined for the freezer could then be put directly away without volunteers having to handle boxes individually.

Families who have not yet signed up to receive Thanksgiving food must go to the food bank at 10814 E. Broadway Ave. on Wednesday to make an appointment. The normal, once every 30 days restriction on food bank visits does not apply to the Thanksgiving distribution. Food will only be distributed by appointment. Call (509) 927-1153 for more information.

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