May 8, 2010 in Washington Voices

Serving up retirement

Food bank director returning to her volunteer beginnings
By The Spokesman-Review

Longtime Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank director Barbara Bennett helps clients during the weekly food distribution Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

After 19 years with the Spokane Valley Food Bank, Barbara Bennett, 67, has stepped down as the director and will be coming in only one day a week.

“Barbara is the food bank,” said Connie Nelson, the new director.

Bennett said she was working part time at another job and was looking for ways to volunteer back in 1991. She said she called another charity first but they didn’t get back to her, so she tried the food bank, which was then located on First Avenue.

“They said, ‘Come over here right now,’ ” she recalled, jokingly.

In the years since then, she has stocked food in the warehouse, interviewed clients, cleaned the refrigerators and delivered bakery products. She remembers walking or driving two blocks to pick up the food to bring it back to the food bank on delivery days.

“We just kept getting busier and busier,” she said.

Her favorite times at the food bank have always been the holidays. She said she could open up a freezer a few days before holiday distribution and might only see one or two turkeys in there. But somehow, every year, the inventory seemed to grow to fill the need.

The food bank has grown since Bennett started; it now has its own warehouse and works in conjunction with Spokane Valley Partners, 10814 E. Broadway.

In the coming weeks, Bennett is helping Nelson with the transition to director.

They want to make sure the volunteers – who provided more than 27,000 hours of service last year – know that there won’t be any major changes to the way things work.

“They have a value that is priceless to us,” Nelson said.

Bennett agreed, noting that clients of the food bank often come back to volunteer.

In her 17 years as first manager and then director, Bennett said she has worked with many volunteers. She said one volunteer in particular stands out in her memory.

“My high school principal came and had to work for me,” she said.

But the director position is much bigger than a 40 hour-a-week job, and Bennett said she’s looking forward to spending some time with her family. Her husband of 48 years, Jim, has been retired for a few years and has promised to take her fishing.

“He said, ‘When am I going to see you?’ ”

Still, she doesn’t plan to cut ties with the food bank completely. She said most people are just a paycheck away from needing the facility’s services and helping them get over that hump is very satisfying.

“There’s no stigma in it,” she said. “It could happen to all of us. It’s just immensely rewarding to be able to provide families with what they need.”

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