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Kay Porta’s efforts sparked group that’s helped thousands

Kay Porta sits  in the Second Harvest warehouse Wednesday.  Porta was honored for her role in founding the food bank.  (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)
Kay Porta sits in the Second Harvest warehouse Wednesday. Porta was honored for her role in founding the food bank. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON)

40 years later, Second Harvest honoring founder

Kay Porta helped unload the first big truckload of food that rolled into the Spokane Food Bank in 1971.

“I remember when we got a thousand pounds of canned salmon from the Department of Fisheries,” Porta said. “It seemed like such a big deal.”

Nearly 40 years and 200 million pounds of food later, Second Harvest Inland Northwest honored Porta as its founder during a dinner for supporters on Wednesday evening at the Spokane emergency food distribution center.

Beginning next year, the annual award will be named in her honor and presented to those credited with making strides in feeding the region’s hungry, said Second Harvest director Jason Clark.

Porta, 85, a longtime child welfare employee of the state Department of Social and Health Services in Spokane, was working as an administrative assistant during the Nixon-era recession when her boss told her “to put her mind to helping” all the people filling the lobby of the welfare office.

“The time was very much like it is right now,” Porta said. “People who had never needed help were losing their jobs, and most people didn’t know where to go for help.”

So Porta wrote churches, neighborhood centers and charitable organizations, inviting them to begin a conversation about emergency food services. The conversation resulted in an emergency food center opening at 157 S. Howard St. A year later, the Spokane Food Bank was incorporated.

In the 1990s, the food bank became Second Harvest, the leading organization in a network that distributes more than a million pounds of donated food each month through 300 neighborhood food banks and meal centers in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. In Spokane County alone, Second Harvest helps 15,000 people each month. The organization is now part of the Feeding America network.

Clark said Wednesday’s founders day dinner was the start of a yearlong commemoration of the food bank’s 40th anniversary, and coincides with a fundraising campaign to renovate Second Harvest’s nearly 70-year-old warehouse at 1234 E. Front Ave.

It is hoped the million-dollar campaign will finance an automated fresh produce sorting line, a volunteer resource center and energy efficiency improvements, Clark said.

Porta, who retired from DSHS in 1987, lives with one of her three daughters in Seattle. She said organizing Spokane’s food bank was the proudest accomplishment of a career spent in social work.

Her dream for the food bank was for “people to feel they could turn to it because it was provided by their friends and neighbors,” she said.

“I’m glad to know that after all these years, it’s still going.”