Holidays highlight need at Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank

December 13, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Barb Main (left), an Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank volunteer, helps Marta Cotreras and husband Sotero, of Newcastle, fill their grocery needs for the week during food bank hours Dec. 1. By Greg Farrar

The line outside the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank on a cold December morning is long, and the people clutching canvas bags came bundled against the chill.

The pace inside the plain downtown building is swift. Clients, bags in hand, spirit through another line and place orders with the volunteers behind the counter. Hamburger Helper, macaroni and cheese, and other family dinner staples disappear from the shelves behind the counter as volunteers slip the items inside clients’ bags.

Elsewhere, clients choose from fresh fruits and vegetables, and, of course, canned goods beneath a sign reading, “Take what you need but need what you take.”

The people relying on the food bank for assistance comprise a diverse group. Chinese, Russian and Spanish phrases punctuate the air around the line each morning.

Clients also vary in age. The food bank serves more than 3,200 clients from throughout the Issaquah School District. The group includes more than 1,200 children ages 3 to 17, and more than 460 people 65 and older.

Teresa Sandoval, volunteer coordinator, said the food bank clientele remains unchanged for the most part, but the economic downturn did place additional strain on the organization’s resources.

How to help

Cartridge World in Issaquah is collecting nonperishable food items for the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank through the holiday season. Customers bringing in three items or more to the store, 1175 N.W. Gilman Blvd., through Dec. 15 receive 15 percent off of purchases.

The food bank is always in need of the following items:

  • Baby formula
  • Cereal
  • Cooking oil
  • Diapers
  • Evaporated milk
  • Flour
  • Fresh produce
  • Pasta
  • Snacks for children’s lunches
  • Sugar

The food bank needs the following items on a short-term basis:

  • Dried pinto beans
  • Juice
  • Raisins and dried fruit

Find a complete list of ongoing needs, learn how to volunteer or donate at www.issaquahfoodbank.org.

Many clients started coming to the food bank years ago and, in the interim, learned to know staffers and volunteers on a first-name basis. The language barrier sometimes poses a challenge for staffers, volunteers and clients. Sandoval often acts as a translator for Spanish-speaking clients.

Amberly Ritchie, a North Bend resident and former food bank client, came to the building on a recent morning to donate clothes. The single mother said the food bank provided a needed lifeline, especially for staples to feed a 14-month-old toddler and a 6-year-old boy.

The experience imparted a lesson to Ritchie’s 6-year-old son.

For the holiday season, he said, “‘Mom, I’m going to help the people that don’t have what I have,’” she recalled.

(Because the food bank only serves Issaquah School District residents, Ritchie changed to the Mount Si Helping Hand Food Bank after relocating to North Bend.)

The Issaquah food bank relies on donations from residents and local grocery stores to stock shelves. Come summertime, fresh vegetables from community gardens boost the supply.

“The people in Issaquah are just so giving,” Kim Ortego, longtime administrative assistant at the food bank, said on a recent morning, as clients swirled past a Christmas tree set up near the entrance.

The crowd included husband and wife Marta and Sotero Cotreras on a trip to the food bank for dry goods and fresh fruit.

“It’s like the grocery store, only no paying,” Marta Cotreras said as they inched through the line.

The horseshoe-shaped line snakes past canned goods stacked inside plastic crates, breads and pastries lined up along a wall, and bins brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables. The scene is bustling, but as efficient as a factory assembly line.

“It’s very, very busy all the time,” Marta Cotreras said.

The food bank is in the midst of change. In addition to a recent shift in leadership, the organization started a focus on fresh food spearheaded by Executive Director Cori Kauk.

Tranilla praised changes instituted by Kauk to improve the experience for food bank clients.

Still, despite the changes, the need looms large. The holiday season focuses renewed attention on donating to the Issaquah food bank and similar programs, but the need is constant year round.

“They can only give out what is donated,” food bank client and volunteer Vicky Tranilla said.

The line starts to form at 6 a.m. on Mondays, even though the food bank does not open to clients until 10 a.m. — a reflection of demand for the service the food bank provides.

“There are a lot of families that are in need right now,” Ortego said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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