When the North Palouse Community Food Bank opened its doors on a recent Thursday afternoon, an immediate rush of local residents came into the small, chilly room to browse the shelves.
The food bank is both large and small at the same time. It serves a large geographic area that encompasses the small Spokane County towns of Fairfield, Rockford, Latah and Waverly. The food bank itself is small, relying on community donations and Second Harvest to keep the shelves in a room on the back side of the Fairfield fire station stocked.
It is only open for two Saturday mornings a month and one Thursday evening. Those who have emergency needs can contact a volunteer to get access on other days.
“I’m here for my staples, spuds and onions,” said one resident who didn’t wish to be identified. He scanned the shelves of flour, salt, mayonnaise, cereal, juice and canned food before checking out the dairy items in the donated refrigerator. He gathered up his bags when he was done shopping. “Thank you folks,” he said to the volunteers. “Now I’ll make it to the end of the month.”
This food bank is organized a bit differently that most. Usually residents are escorted around by a volunteer and told they can have one can of this, two cans of that. At the North Palouse Community Food Bank, however, residents can take whatever they want as long as they stay within the limits of a half-bag of canned food per person and one bag of freezer and refrigerator items per family.
Residents are not limited to one food bank visit a month. They can visit as often as they need as long as they keep to the bag limits each time. After each visit food is weighed and written down in a log.
“One of our goals was so folks could have the independence and dignity of picking what they want,” said food bank founder Carol Widman.
The food bank started in 2005 when Widman teamed up with Zion Lutheran Church and the Latah Bible Church. “The Post Office in Fairfield gave us our first contribution,” Widman said. “It was 400 pounds. They were our start.”
Now a steady stream of community food drives and donations from Second Harvest keep the food bank afloat. All donations are weighed when they come in and when they go out. “Second Harvest likes an accounting,” Widman said. “All our donations need to be accounted for.”
The amount of food coming from Second Harvest varies, but it is a steady supplier of eggs, milk and vegetables. In the summer, local farmers and gardeners donate some produce and sometimes fresh eggs. “Food drives are great for canned goods,” she said. “The Valleyford Post Office has broken 1,000 pounds before.”
The food bank is also supported by local churches. Widman recalled one time when the food bank had a bill from Second Harvest and no money to pay it. A pastor walked in with donations from a food drive and also handed over some checks from local residents.
“It was $2 short of our bill,” she said.
Recently the Freeman School District did its big annual food drive, said food bank president Sheila Dyer. This year’s tally was 4,648 pounds of food. “They do it every year,” Dyer said. “It’s getting bigger and bigger.”
While the donations may be increasing, so is the need. The food bank has 70 families registered and 86 people were helped in January, Dyer said.
Kim Blair, of Fairfield, calls the food bank a blessing and said she would likely starve without it. She’s an unemployed single mother and has applied for disability.
She usually comes in twice a month and is very appreciative of the volunteers. “They’re good ladies,” she said. “They’re hard workers.”
Blair said she has been to other food banks in the past. She likes that the North Palouse Community Food Bank is clean and the food is fresh. “I’ve opened food boxes with maggots in it before, but not from here,” she said. “They really watch that stuff here.”