Commentary: Goodwill, innovative thinking equal food for those in need


By Barb Kent, Second Harvest

Growing up in Idaho and then the Methow Valley, I thought milk was a white powder and peanut butter came in gallon cans. It also gave me a deep appreciation for the fabric of communities and neighbors with that do-whatever-it-takes approach to looking out for each other.

Still, when I hung up the phone after my first conversation with Alison Mitchell of Coulee City a couple weeks ago, I thought, “Wow! Who does that?”

Alison works for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), which received a grant from State Farm Insurance to reward high school students with gift cards for driving safely by “catching” them, say, wearing seatbelts when they pulled into school parking lots. Except with COVID-19, not many kids are pulling into school parking lots. And some of the grant money was earmarked to provide safety lighting for trick-or-treaters, but, well. …

Not one to give up, Alison got the OK from State Farm to find creative ways to promote safety. And did she ever. Looking at her Facebook feed one evening, Alison noticed Big Bend Community College was going to stream its annual “Cellarbration for Education” fundraising auction. She submitted the winning bid for 4,000 pounds of onions and 4,000 pounds of potatoes. The produce was donated locally — by Jensen Farms, Desert Ridge and Skone & Connor farms.

Now the proud steward of 8,000 pounds of top-quality Central Washington potatoes and onions, she called Second Harvest to see if we could use it. And boy, could we.

Alison’s WTSC territory consists of Adams, Grant, Ferry and Lincoln counties, which are four of the 26 counties in Washington and Idaho we at Second Harvest cover. Our main job is to serve as the food bank for food banks, helping to ensure 250 partners (food pantries, schools, etc.) can meet their local needs.

Nearly every one of our partners has withstood increased demand. As one example, in the months of July and August combined, in 2019 we distributed 6.1 million pounds of food, which rose to 10.3 million pounds the same period this year. The four counties Alison covers have all seen spikes in demand, and we are able to make sure the potatoes and onions donated by those local farms are distributed in those counties.

“Our new slogan is, ‘Together we get there,’” Alison explained of the WTSC. “That’s a perfect tie-in to helping feed hungry neighbors in this pandemic. COVID might stop some things, but it doesn’t stop us from caring about our community.”

Alison and her neighbors are not done being hunger-fighting warriors, though! Oh no, she has helped arrange food drives with the stores, emergency responders, law enforcement and local food pantries in communities including Republic, Quincy, Moses Lake, Ephrata, Royal City and Soap Lake.

So, locally grown, farm-fresh produce was donated to the community college, and is being given to hungry families in north central Washington, paid for by a grant from an insurance company, nudged through the supply chain by a dedicated mom, and distributed through our Second Harvest network.

When I called the farms to arrange for pickup, I immediately got the same sort of community-first response. “How do you want it,” they asked. “Bulk? Cases? Bags? Just let us know.”

At Second Harvest, we don’t take anything for granted, but like everyone we do get into a routine. So it’s so inspiring, during these times, to be a small part of a story of rural American sensibilities and corporate goodwill combined in an innovative way that means more food on the tables of people who need it.

And what could be more innovative than transitioning a traffic safety grant into feeding hungry people? All it took was some creative, constructive thinking. Or, as Alison put it, “Happy, healthy, and well-fed people tend to drive safer!”

Barb Kent is a logistics director at Second Harvest, a nonprofit that supplies a network of partner food banks, meal sites and other programs feeding people in need in 21 counties in Eastern Washington and 5 counties in North Idaho. 

Story reposted with permission from Capital Press

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