Whidbey’s food banks are still up and running

— Created March 25, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

In this time of uncertainty for many, keeping one’s family safe and well nourished is of paramount importance, something that can be especially worrisome for those who rely on food banks to feed their families.

With dedicated staff and volunteers, food banks on Whidbey Island are stepping up and staying safe as they continue to provide essentials to those families who need a little help.

Good Cheer Food Bank in Langley, Gifts From the Heart in Coupeville and North Whidbey Help House in Oak Harbor are trying to keep business as normal as possible in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic – but there are some changes.

“Clearly, we can’t let anyone in, so we have gone to a personal shopper model,” said Carol Squire, executive director of Good Cheer. “We have a list of what’s available, they tell us their name, we tell them how many points they have. They sit down, fill out their list and when they’re ready one of us will take their list in, fill the order and bring it back out to them. They’re still getting what they want, what they need.”

Squire said they are encouraging people to take a lot at one time, rather than coming back for less more frequently, reducing exposure for everyone. Lines are clearly marked and there are places for people to sit while they wait, at a proper distance apart, of course.

“So far it’s been fine,” she said. “People are being patient, so, so far so good.”

Care is being taken inside the store as well, according to Squire.

“We’ve even made a traffic flow plan for staff inside,” she said. “We’re making sure we don’t walk across each other, so we can keep that six-foot space.”

In Oak Harbor, the name of the game is disinfect, disinfect, disinfect and distance, distance, distance.

“We shut down [one day last week] and did a thorough cleaning,” said Jean Weiman, executive director of North Whidbey Help House. “We are only allowing one person in the office at a time. We are pre-making food bags (with the exception of produce), so we set the bag on a chair or on the floor for the client to pick up. We are not using their personal reusable shopping bags, but they can put the bag we give them in their bags.”

Clients must maintain space between them when waiting to go to the produce area, and they are issued a pair of disposable gloves they must use. Staff are even keeping track of pencils – people take a pencil from one cup, put it in another when finished, and when the “used” cup is full, the pencils are carefully disinfected before being put back into use.

Weiman said Help House is allowing clients to get two boxes of food instead of the normal, single allotment. This will continue through April in an effort to offset schools being closed. Right now, supplies are good.

“We had a good holiday season last year, so I feel comfortable doing this and not running out,” she said.  “I hope to keep doing the extra allotment in May if we can.”

Weiman did say it has been harder to purchase meat, and the nonprofit agency is in need of large, family-size cans of chili, stew, big cans of tuna, fruit and pork and beans.

“[Good Cheer] gets a large percentage of our stock from food aggregators, like Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest,” Squire explained. “They send trucks over twice a week, so we’ve been stocking up. However, they’re reporting they’re receiving less food, so going forward it could be difficult. We also get grocery ‘rescues’ from stores on the island, but with all the panic buying, that’s also down.” 

If people want to help, the best thing to donate right now is money.

“The best thing people can do is give us money so we can buy what we need,” said Squire. Good Cheer gets a large portion of its funding through its thrift stores in Langley and Clinton, but with closures, it will impact the agency’s bottom line quickly.

“We’re getting a lot of donations, which usually covers about 20 percent of our costs,” she said. “Several organizations on the island are stepping up and we had money in reserves. We have been saving for a rainy day. This is it. We will keep the food bank open.”

“People have just been walking through the door, handing us contributions,” said Weiman. “It’s been amazing. We’ll stay open as long as we can, or until they tell us we can’t.”

For information, go to goodcheer.org, facebook.com/North-Whidbey-Help-House-267618856581791/ and giftsfromtheheartfoodbank.com.

“Take this seriously and keep safe,” said Squire. “The impact on the island depends on how long this is drawn out. If people stay separated, it will die out sooner, the economic impact will be less and everybody can get back to normal sooner.”

PLEASE NOTE: Following publication, Whidbey Weekly has been informed Good Cheer Food Bank is modifying its hours. The Langley food bank will be open Monday-Friday 10 a.m. -4 p.m. If one is unable to access the food bank during open hours, they can call 360-221-4868 and arrange for home delivery.

Whidbey Schools Provide Meals
All three Whidbey Island school districts are providing free meals to students. Students must be present to get a meal.

Oak Harbor Public Schools:
10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. at:
Broad View Elementary
473 SW Fairhaven Drive, Oak Harbor
Crescent Harbor Elementary
350 E Crescent Harbor Road, Oak Harbor
Olympic View Elementary
380 NE Regatta Drive, Oak Harbor
Check ohsd.net for information on mobile delivery services and menus.

10-11 a.m.
Coupeville High School Commons

South Whidbey*:
11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Kitchen back door,
South Whidbey High School Parking Lot
*NOTE: Students MUST sign up to receive meals: https://forms.gle/5ZaVaj22fZTaYMqb8