by Rick Rhoads
Orcas Island Food Bank
As people lost jobs and income, demand on the Orcas Island Food Bank tripled, practically overnight, from its pre-pandemic level. The demand had to be met under new conditions, including masking and maintaining social distancing between and among volunteers and customers. Young volunteers (some of whom are also customers) had to be recruited and trained — the majority of existing volunteers were of retirement age and considered too vulnerable to the virus. Facilities had to be enlarged and hours increased, incrementally, from 2.5 per week to the present 18. Fortunately, Orcas Islanders understood that people’s health and even survival were at stake, and they cared. They stepped up to provide the financial support that made the expansion possible. As a result, during one week in late February 2021 the Food Bank was able to serve 234 households — 503 people, from infants to seniors — about 10% of the Orcas population.
For the Food Bank’s board, its new manager, Amanda Sparks, staff members Molly Donovan and Becky Hawley, and the volunteers, accomplishing this expansion and developing and executing new processes while not missing a beat in the fight against hunger was a solid first step. They felt their customers (as they are called, although the service is free to all who register) deserved not only enough food, but the most nutritious, healthy, and appealing food possible. What, they discovered, did most customers want? From the youngest to the oldest, across all ethnicities, more than anything else, the cry was for fresh food.
Orcas Island farmers and gardeners had always donated to the Food Bank; the new goal was to greatly increase the quantity of fresh food in the mix. Thanks to a collaborative grant between Orcas Island Community Foundation and the local Farm Fund, a gift from the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation (see www.oprahfoundation.org/impact-stories/orcas-island), and the generosity of local farmers and gardeners, the food bank is distributing more locally grown food than ever before. Since May of 2020, local farms and gardens provided nearly 13,000 pounds of produce and 820 pounds of local organic ground beef, pork, and lamb. This source of meat alone translates to at least 3,300 individual servings of protein. With part of the local produce, we developed a new “product,” soup, cooked at Camp Orkila’s commercial kitchen. Customers have taken home 4,800 bowls of frozen soup to date. Remember the shortages of some foods at the beginning of the pandemic? The Food Bank’s increasing support for locally grown food strengthens our island’s overall food security.
The food bank is currently working on a number of initiatives, including expanding the selection of special foods for kids, teens, those with dietary constraints, and Latinx and Hispanic customers, and creating a program to further engage the island community in combating hunger and food insecurity. We’ll report on those soon. The food bank is located at 176 Madrona Street, Eastsound next to the Community Church. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, noon to 6 p.m.