It Takes a Village — or a Friendly Small Town — to Keep a Community Food Bank Full

Dayton Community Food Bank near city hall in Dayton, WA
Organization doesn’t just happen. A dedicated group of volunteers is an important component to the success of the Dayton, WA Community Food Bank.

 

Community.

Before it became a television sitcom, the word was used, and overused, by businesses and organizations trying to infuse a sense of humanity into the corporate framework. Before all that, however, the word had a viable meaning describing a group of dedicated people who — in a small, friendly town sort of way — pull together to do good things.

In Dayton, WA, the Community Food Bank lives up to that cozy, friendly definition.

Dayton's Community Food Bank is located in the former fire station next to City Hall in Dayton, WA
Dayton’s Community Food Bank is located in the former fire station next to City Hall in Dayton, WA

“We are a volunteer organization with our own time and often money going into the system to keep it running,” Laura Thorn, director of the food bank, says. “We distribute food to clients whose income falls below 185% of the federal poverty level. We do this on Tuesdays, from 2 – 4 p.m., but besides all that, we need people to manage the accounts, order the food, schedule the volunteers, arrange the call lists, make the decisions, and keep the unit together.”

Volunteers do everything from sort and pack food to lift heavy boxes –(“We’re always looking for people who can lift weight to unload a monthly delivery truck on the third Wednesday of the month,” Thorn slips in) — and one dedicated couple cleans and guts fresh fish that the bank receives in the fall and spring through the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Many of us organize our life around Tuesday distribution day, taking vacations from Wednesday to Monday,” Thorn adds.

The thing about a community food bank is, not only are a lot of volunteers needed, but so is, quite naturally, a quantity of food. Serving between 140-160 households, representing up to 550 people, per month, the non-profit organization works in conjunction with federal, state, and local agencies, including the Blue Mountain Action Council of Walla Walla, which once a month sends the aforementioned truck with federal and state food supplies. Those supplies include 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of food — hence, the request for people who, literally, lift weight.

Winter squash provided by local gardeners to the Dayton, WA community food bank
Local gardeners, generous with their bounty, are an important part of the Dayton Community Food Bank.

But while agencies and organizations and boards are all part of the team, the “community” factor of the food bank is supplied by just that — the local people and civic groups who live in the area and care about their fellow residents who struggle to get food on the table.

“Many family gardeners share their food with us as a project,” Thorn says. “Last year we received strawberries and vegetables from local growers.

“Another family volunteers regularly with their two young daughters.”

Throughout the year, the Country Cupboard bakery donates surplus products; McQuary’s Grocery provides freezer space beyond what the food bank enjoys at its location in the former fire station next to City Hall; and many businesses and school organizations make a yearly tradition of gathering food.

“Food drives are particularly useful for us because they promote awareness and publicity in addition to gathering food,” Thorn says.

Laura Thorn, director of the Dayton Community Food Bank, keeps food and paperwork smoothly moving.
Laura Thorn, director of the Dayton Community Food Bank, keeps food and paperwork smoothly moving.

“We enjoy visits from Vacation Bible Schools every summer. Community events — like Dayton Mule Mania, the Wellness Coalition, Relay for Life, and Turkey Bingo — include us.

“In the fall, the Future Business Leaders of America did their major food drive, going door to door at Halloween, gathering 300 pounds of food.”

And coming up in January, Wenaha Gallery downtown embarks upon its 6th annual month-long food drive, which last year collected 550 pounds of food. While the gallery offers an incentive of $2 off framing for each can donated, (up to 20 percent off), gallery manager Lael Loyd says that many people are equally enthusiastic about adding to the growing display of food that the gallery features near the front window.

“They see the display in the window one afternoon, and the next day they’ve parked their car in the front and are bringing in cans,” Loyd says. “They’re really excited to see us as a convenient drop off point.”

Extra excited this year is gallery associate CJ Horlacher, who creates art displays throughout the year, and considers the aesthetic arrangement of disparate cans and boxes and bags a satisfying challenge. Thanks to another local grocery, Dayton Mercantile, Horlacher will have a shopping cart as part of this year’s display, and she is already running through ideas, none of which she will share early.

“It’s a surprise,” she says with a smile. “Even to me.”

Food is, obviously, one of the essential elements of life, and giving it to those who don’t have enough is an act about which one can feel good.

“Our goal is to provide a few days of balanced meals to enable our regular clients to afford some of their other basic necessities,” Thorn says.

“We are privileged to be part of a strong local base for funding and support.

“It takes a community working together to fight hunger.”

Wenaha GalleryWenaha Gallery’s 6th Annual Food Drive for the Dayton Community Food Bank runs from January 2 through January 31, 2015, and people may drop off non-perishable canned and boxed food, as well as personal care items such as deodorant or toothpaste, at the gallery, 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Contact the gallery by phone at 800.755.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton; phone 509.382.2124; e-mail art@wenaha.com.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.

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