Free potatoes, onions to be distributed in Port Angeles, Forks

Public, volunteers welcomed to Saturday events

Baked, mashed or fried, 50,000 pounds of potatoes will soon find a spot on dinner tables courtesy of free potato and onion drive-by distribution events set for 10 a.m. Saturday, May 23.

One will be at the Clallam County Fairgrounds’ north parking lot.

Another is planned for the same time at the American Legion Hall in Forks.

Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Connie Beauvais, a candidate for state Senate, has organized the delivery.

The distribution will include a portion of the expected 1 billion-pound backlog of seed potatoes piling up at farms across the state as the root vegetable’s supply chain with the coronavirus-related shutdown of restaurants and school food service programs.

It’s not just a Washington-state phenomenon: Belgium, originator of the French fry, asked its citizens in late April to eat fries twice a week to cut into a similar glut of potatoes.

The distribution for the east side of the county will be at the Clallam County Fairgrounds’ north parking lot at the corner of West 18th and South I streets. Those who pick up the veggies should enter by the east entrance off South I Street, Beauvais said.

Forks Mayor Tim Fletcher worked with Beauvais and company to set up the West End distribution. Residents are asked to drive to the corner of Maple Avenue and East Division Street, and volunteers will load potatoes and onions into their vehicles.

Eight 2,400-pound potato-laden pallets are heading to the West End.

Donations of potatoes and onions also will be made available to the public and West End tribal food banks in Forks.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula and area food banks also will be beneficiaries.

The inspiration for the drive-thru delivery came when Beauvais saw television reports of farmers making surplus potatoes available for free to the public by dumping the seed spuds on the ground.

“That looked a little dire,” Beauvais said. “I thought that we can do better than dumping the potatoes on the ground and saying come get them.

“My thought was to get these in the hands of as many as possible, especially essential workers,” she said. “That’s why we are doing this on a Saturday, and anybody who is experiencing any kind of hardship, we want to let them know there are people in the community who care.”

Beauvais contacted community leaders to get the operation underway.

“I reached out to Bill and Mike Hermann of Hermann Bros. (Logging and Construction Co.), and they provided a tractor trailer to pick up and deliver the potatoes,” Beauvais said.

“Jim Buck and Terry Barnett went to Eastern Washington yesterday to pick up 6,000 pounds of onions. And when the processing plant heard that this was for the benefit of the community, they gave Jim a 25 percent discount.”

Buck, an emergency preparedness advocate and former state representative, said that he, Beauvais and Barnett have been involved in emergency planning for years.

“The COVID-19 crisis is the closest thing we are going to have to a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake,” Buck said.

“We all came to the same conclusion at the same time. We saw this deal from the Washington State Potato Commission and noticed they were coming as close as Tacoma. We figured they were busy, so we organized things ourselves.

He and Barnett traveled to Target Ag Production near Othello to pick up the onions.

“We went over with the idea that it was going to cost 10 cents a pound, and the gal asked if this was for a food bank,” Buck said. “I told her yes, and for tribal and community distribution. She gave us a 25-percent discount, which we were thrilled about, and told us that if they have potatoes left over at the end of the season, they would donate those for free.”

Buck said the reception at Hermann Bros. was positive.

“We pulled into Hermann Brothers about 7:30 p.m. (Monday night), and they were all so excited to be part of this,” Buck said.

Beauvais said she paid $2,000 to have the potatoes bagged and placed on pallets.

Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach and the Hermann brothers also have contributed to the effort, and Saar’s Super Saver Foods has donated sacks for the onions.

Beauvais said area churches have responded to her request for volunteers, as the project lays the groundwork for additional relief efforts.

“This kind of shows us how we can open up other opportunities, and work to use those contacts in our community going forward,” Beauvais said.

Beauvais asks any potential volunteer to bring and wear their own face coverings Saturday.

“We already have 30 volunteers, but anybody who wants to show up and join the Spud Brigade or bag up onions is welcome,” she said.