Food bank offers help on holidays and every day

Published on Thu, Nov 21, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Food bank offers help on holidays and every day

By Meg Olson

Six hunred families are signed up with the Blaine food bank. Every Tuesday between 200 and 250 of them come for a bag of groceries to get them through the week.

This week is a little different. Cranberry sauce and stuffing is tucked in with the bread and powdered milk, and a ten-dollar gift certificate for Cost Cutter. “We try and give them all the basics and the gift certificate is for them to buy a turkey or a ham or whatever their family might prefer for Thanksgiving,” said food bank president Sheila Connors.

Ensuring their clients have holiday meals at Christmas and Thanksgiving is a fall challenge for food bank volunteers. “This is food we purchase for the holidays through cash donations,” Connors said. “This is the time of year when cash donations really matter so we try and make sure each of the families who needs us is covered.”

It’s also a time of year where the food bank could use a bit of brawn. “We can always use volunteers,” Connors said. “So many of our volunteers are in their 70s and 80s. We could use a strong, young man to help us lift things.”

Anna Workentine has volunteered for eight years.

“This is my social life,” said Workentine. “It gives me a reason to get up in the morning. If I just sat at home looking at the four walls, I’d go star-craving mad.”

When the food bank opens its doors at 9 a.m. on Tuesday November 19, just two of the dozen volunteers are young. Neither of them are men.
“We get a lot of young people in here to work off community service hours,” said Food Bank manager John McParlin.

Chris Crystal, 17, has worked at the food bank on-and-off for two years.“I started doing community service here,” Crystal said. “But I liked it so I came back voluntarily.” Today, just under a dozen volunteers bring in food and repackage it to be picked up by hundreds of hungry families.
Connors said the food bank filled more demand over the holidays, but also had more resources, especially from local food drives and donations. “People think of us over the holidays, which we love and appreciate,” she said. “But there are other times when we need an influx and it isn’t there.” Summer can be rough, she said, with no food drives at the school and migrant laborers boosting the demand for service. “We can sign up 20 new families in a day and that’s when I notice we’re really stretched.”

Connors said the local food bank got half its resources through government programs and grants, while the other half comes from local donations. Two weeks ago an anonymous donor gave 125 40-pound boxes of frozen, cut chicken.

“Every week they will get a bag with canned goods and bread and a goodie bag, maybe with some spices, if we have extras,” Connors said. “We guarantee the staples. Produce is on a first come, first served basis. It’s all donated and doesn’t keep so we hand it out until it runs out.”

Connors said she was planning an outreach program to try and get local families and businesses to give Blaine’s hungry a gift that lasts all year by pledging a monthly donation to the food bank. “What some businesses don’t realize is that some of their own employees are among our working hungry,” Connors said. “Some women are trying to raise three kids while making $7.25 an hour and it can’t be done. Even though they have a job they can’t feed their children and pay for a roof over their heads. These days people would rather go hungry than homeless.”

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