After 28 years, the Sequim Food Bank continues as a staple for some residents' daily meals.
Churches, community gardens, grocery stores, schools, local government and individuals support the facility with fundraisers and food drives. Donation bins and drop-off sites are across Sequim.
Yet the need for food assistance continues to grow.
Stephen Rosales, board president and interim executive director, said the food bank provides groceries for about 250 families a week between its three openings: 9 a.m.-noon, Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.
"We used to be overjoyed with 150 people a week," Rosales said. He anticipates participation getting bigger still.
Third day for full meal
Rosales and volunteers say the increased usage is due to the food bank's accessibility and the poor economy.
More than a year ago, board members voted for a third opening, which evolved from Monday nights to Saturday mornings.
About 50 people receive food on Saturdays and about 100 on Mondays and Fridays, Rosales said.
There now are just a few requirements to receive food. An individual needs proof of residence within the Sequim School District boundaries and must answer a few questions about household occupancy - similar to the U.S. Census Bureau's method.
Rosales said he doesn't want to limit the food bank's reach and will help anyone who is hungry in or around Sequim.
The simplified process and dropping financial questions have cut wait times from as much as an hour to a matter of minutes.
Rosales said the limited restrictions accommodate the fluctuating economy because someone with a stable job one week could be broke the next.
Patty Lebowitz, a Sequim Food Bank board member, said the process is much easier and faster for people.
She stressed that people are appreciative of the quick process because some might be hesitant to stand outside and might skip getting food if they must wait.
An array of food is handed out at the food bank.
In the summer, it's not uncommon for people to drop off boxes of fruit and vegetables they've grown themselves.
Donations like these are seasonal and only available when donated because the food bank buys food that's nonperishable and can be frozen.
No expired food is given out.
Rosales said 80 percent of the goods the food bank receives are of good quality, and donors don't use the food bank as a dumping ground for unwanted foods.
He finds when food has expired, it's often because families are clearing out houses from deceased relatives.
Volunteers have studied what foods/items are most popular.
To save money, they've begun buying bulk items such as sugar and proportioning it out rather than giving individual bags, which cost more.
A bar of soap and toilet paper used to be handed out for each person, but Rosales said they strictly are buying food now for cost savings.
A few of the most popular items are milk, potatoes, cereal and chicken.
Rosales estimates that every time the food bank opens it costs $1,500-$2,000.
Summer months are some of the hardest because money and donations are sporadic before school starts.
The last joint fundraiser, with the U.S. Post Office, was a success but it was held on May 15.
In July, $800 was given for food donations.
Rosales said the food bank has enough money in reserves to operate for a year without incoming funding, but he never sees it coming to that because of the consistent support from community members.
Some people give food and/or money in varying amounts each month and some give when they can.
It's not uncommon for people who once were helped by the food bank to return the favor when they return to more affluent times.
The Sequim Food Bank also is saving about $30,000 a year by not having a director. Rosales succeeded longtime volunteer and director Nina Fatherson, who resigned on Oct. 31, 2009.
She expressed frustration with Rosales and his managerial style and said that she, her husband and 12 longtime volunteers were finished.
Rosales refused to comment on the matter but did say he remains appreciative of Fatherson's efforts and that without her dedication, the food bank wouldn't be where it is now.
Rosales was supposed to be interim director only until January of this year, but now he plans on sticking with the position as a volunteer until December before re-evaluating donations and need. Lebowitz said she and other board members have no immediate plans for hiring a director.
"The operation is running very smoothly right now and we'll let Stephen do it as long as he wants to."
The Sequim Food Bank, 144 W. Alder St., is open
9 a.m.-noon Monday, Friday and Saturday. Call 683-1205 or 461-6038.
Reach Matthew Nash at email@example.com.
The Sequim Gazette is located at 147 W. Washington Street in Sequim.
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