Food bank awarded WSDA grant to build capacity

by Rick Rhoads

Orcas Island Food Bank

The two blue 40-fott shipping containers in front of the Orcas Island Food Bank have become four. A white Freightliner sprinter cargo van with a rear liftgate and a bulge on the roof revealing that it’s refrigerated will soon be here.

The food bank was able to acquire the van and the shipping containers by winning a grant from the Washington State Department of Agriculture for more than $130,000. The funds were part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, passed in March 2020. The grant will also pay for a walk-in CoolBot and platform, a refrigerator, a freezer, metal shelving for the containers and CoolBot and six hand trucks.

Island businesses and individuals stepped up to help during the past three months. The food bank is grateful to Shaner Excavation and Tree Services for leveling the ground and gravel beds under the containers and CoolBot; Island Excavation and Orcas Excavation for donating the gravel; Bruce Halabisky for design work, carpentry and wood donation; Andrew and Stu Stephens for wood donation and Chris and Vicki Brems for the donation, design and installation of plexiglass safety barriers and flower boxes.

By late March 2020 demand on the food bank had tripled while the normal food supply stream became unstable. It had to increase its storage capacity on an emergency basis. The adjacent Orcas Island Community Church made its Fellowship Room available for dry storage and repacking of bulk items and Camp Orkila provided dry, refrigerated,and freezer storage and the use of a commercial kitchen to make soups. The church also donated the use of its passenger van. Food bank staff and volunteers lugged cartons of food into and out of the van and around the seats.

“We couldn’t have done it without the Community Church generously loaning us their passenger van,” said staff member Molly Donovan. “It enabled us to move over 150,000 pounds of food between three locations. The new van, though, will be ideal. It’s equipped with a lift gate and designed to transport bulk cargo, allowing us to safely and efficiently move pallets of food. A few months ago, we had to turn down a donation of fresh salmon from a source on the mainland. With the new van’s refrigeration, we’ll be able to pick up and deliver perishable food.”

Board Chair Bob Morris said, “The WSDA grant came along at just the right time. As the pandemic winds down, the church will return its Fellowship Room and van to their normal uses, and we’ll also lose some of our storage area at Camp Orkila. To continue serving our customers, we had to increase our dry and cold storage capacity and get a refrigerated vehicle. The grant enabled us to do that while using funds so generously donated by islanders to put food directly onto people’s tables.”

The food bank is open Monday, 3-6:30 p.m. and Tuesday and Friday from noon to 6:30 p.m. at 176 Madrona Street, Eastsound.