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On the Front Lines: Volunteering with Second Harvest becomes furloughed Spokane man’s full-time job

“It’s nice to be able to do my part,” Stephen Scott said about volunteering during COVID-19 for Second Harvest Food Bank in Spokane on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
“It’s nice to be able to do my part,” Stephen Scott said about volunteering during COVID-19 for Second Harvest Food Bank in Spokane on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Editor’s note: Our series On the Front Lines recognizes those in the community who are confronting the coronavirus pandemic head-on, while the rest of us do our part by stepping back.

When Stephen Scott got his “COVID vacation notice” – aka furloughed from his job – last month, he decided to make volunteering at Second Harvest food bank his new full-time gig.

“I’m at that point in my life where when you look back at it, you sort of say, ‘What have I done that matters?’ ” Scott said.

Scott started volunteering at Second Harvest about a year ago. Even then, he took it so seriously that in January he took a week vacation from his job at Macy’s and spent it working 8 hours a day at the food bank.

Now, with coronavirus disrupting daily life and causing unemployment rates to skyrocket, Scott said he continues volunteering to keep his community going.

“For me, this is a way that I can ensure people like my folks are getting what they need during this time,” Scott said. “It’s what I can do.”

Scott’s mother, who is turning 89 next month, and his dad, who is 97, are on a fixed income. They have family nearby to help them out, but Scott knows not everyone is so lucky.

Food banks have faced a number of major challenges since the pandemic started. More people are out of work and in need of assistance and there are fewer retired volunteers, who are at a high risk for complications if they were to contract the virus.

Scott just started going out in Second Harvest’s mobile market after the usual volunteer, who is in a high-risk group, had to take a step back.

The mobile market usually allows customers to “shop” for food, but during the pandemic the program has been providing preboxed food. The mobile market is also making more stops. Scott said they supplied nine locations this week, compared to the normal four or five.

On a recent trip to Hillyard, Scott said there were quite a few new customers, people who used to have a steady income but have fallen on hard times due to the virus.

“People are incredibly grateful for what you’re providing for them,” Scott said.

With demand way beyond supply, the food bank still needs volunteers and, even more urgently, financial support, Scott said.

“If people want to stay home and don’t want to come out and volunteer, if they’re able to, financial donations are always something (Second Harvest) is going to be welcome to receive,” Scott said.

Scott is unsure when his furlough will end. But until it does, he plans to keep volunteering full time at Second Harvest.

“I’m a firm believer that community is only what you put into it,” he said.

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