Food bank founder honored by nation and county

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By Steve Guntli

When Bert Isackson co-founded the Blaine Food Bank with his late wife, Thelma, nearly 50 years ago, he couldn’t have anticipated the impact it would have on his life and the community. Now, at age 100, Isackson has been honored at both the local and national level.

On January 23, Isackson received the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for his volunteer work. He is the first person in Whatcom County to receive the award, according to Mel Monkelis of the Volunteer Center of Whatcom County.

The award ceremony, held at Good Samaritan Society-Stafholt, gave a crowd of about 50 of Isackson’s friends and family the opportunity to say thanks for his lifetime of community
service.

“I am just blown away by all he’s done,” said Monkelis. “We thought he would be a perfect candidate for this award.”

The Isacksons started the food bank out of their home almost 50 years ago. Before the food bank opened an office on C Street, the Isacksons kept all of the food donations either in their garage or in the trunk of their car. In time, the couple recruited other volunteers to the bank, which has handed out millions of pounds of food to needy people in the community.

The Presidential Volunteer Service Award has been awarded since 2003, and are awarded throughout the year. The awards are handed out in four tiers: bronze, silver, gold and the lifetime achievement award. Monkelis and his team submitted Isackson for the award late last year. To qualify for the lifetime achievement award, Isackson had to have completed at least 4,000 verifiable volunteer hours. Monkelis dug into the Blaine Food Bank’s records, and found that Isackson had racked up 10,583 hours.

Isackson moved to Stafholt last year after suffering a stroke, but volunteers at the food bank still look to him as an inspiration. Bert_SG-2

“We just love you, Bert,” volunteer Sally Church said at the ceremony. “We’re all so amazed by everything you’ve done.”

Monkelis felt Isackson’s achievements merited more than the Presidential honor, so in addition, Isackson became the first-ever recipient of the Bert Isackson Award. The Volunteer Center of Whatcom County employees created the honor to acknowledge people who have been exemplars of community service throughout the county. The Volunteer Center intends to hand out the award on an annual basis.

Monkelis and Volunteer Center director Angela Murray presented Isackson with the award, a sturdy crystal statue.

“The next person to get that has pretty big shoes to fill,” Monkelis told Isackson.

Recognizing his contributions, Bellingham mayor Kelli Linville declared January 23 as “Bert Isackson Day” in the city of Bellingham.

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