“Magic Jar” yields blessings to South Whidbey community

— Created April 1, 2021 by Melanie Hammons

By Melanie Hammons

During the 1930’s Great Depression era, people sought out the fantasy and romance offered by the Silver Screen. Going to the movies offered them entertainment and escape.

The Clyde Theatre holds a long legacy of serving up entertainment and escape as well, in spite of a curve ball thrown by the pandemic. But facing a mandated closure of uncertain length, Langley’s local cinema decided to go above and beyond. For the past year, the Clyde’s “Magic Change Jar” has provided friends and patrons ways to engage with others in combatting food insecurity on South Whidbey. 

Since 2009, donations to the Magic Change Jar (a mason jar sitting on the Clyde’s snack bar counter), have been designated to various local nonprofits. Last year, acknowledging food provision to be a basic necessity that shouldn’t be derailed by a pandemic, Clyde Theatre owners decided to devote these donations exclusively to Good Cheer Food Bank.  During the cinema’s closure, the Magic Change Jar morphed into a “Virtual” Magic Change Jar. Contributors were asked to make their donations via check.

To date, more than $10,000 has been given to Good Cheer and the folks who head up the organization could not be more proud and thankful.

“We’ve all been overwhelmed by the generosity of our community,” said Carol Squire, executive director of Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores.  “The Clyde’s Magic Change Jar represents the best of South Whidbey. It really is magic and it changes lives. And the Willeford family (Clyde Theatre owners) is extraordinary in their vision and compassion. They always know just how to best mobilize and help the South Whidbey community.”

Here’s how the magic works. Each dollar put in the jar is matched by five partners in the community who have pledged to match the amounts, up to $250.  Currently, those partners, in addition to The Clyde, are Island Athletic Club, South Whidbey Assembly of God, Richard and Christine Epstein, and Kevin and Mary Jane Lungren.

The Magic Change Jar storyline bears some resemblance to a movie that may have shown once upon a time at The Clyde, namely, “Aladdin and His Magic Lamp.”  But instead of a genie granting wishes to one lucky recipient, this is all about donations being multiplied for the benefit of the many.

Keeping the food bank up and operational while following health department guidelines has kept the organization busy. But thanks to its dedicated staff and program donors, Good Cheer succeeded in meeting its mission, said Squire.

“We are committed to helping people eat more whole, healthy foods. We have a grocery-style food bank, meaning, people choose what they need and want, rather than receiving ready-made bags or boxes.

“Our shoppers fill out an extensive shopping list, and our team members ‘shop’ for them,” Squire continued.

Besides regularly available staples, fresh produce, frozen foods and dairy products, donations of food from the community-at-large ensure there’s a rich variety and ever-changing selection of food choices, too.  The food bank has even added its own produce fields right on-site, growing some of the very food selections that wind up in market baskets, according to Squire.

The Food Bank staff has noted an unusually large number of new households coming in for the first time. Squire said they are committed to giving these newcomers what they need in order to keep their families well fed.  Interestingly, one of the ways they’ve decided to meet these needs also sees local small businesses reaping benefits, too.

“One small step we’ve taken is to enter into contracts with local farmers to do two things – support their growth and economic stability while promoting local, healthy eating,” Squire said. “Plus, a new partnership we’ve formed with Community Loaves provides freshly baked, highly nutritious whole-grain bread made by home bakers here on South Whidbey.”

While providing food is its main focus, the Good Cheer organization has plans to enhance the effectiveness of its operation in a couple of ways. The first is joining up with the Whidbey Island Food Resiliency Consortium, which works to improve the larger food system upon which we all depend, said Squire.

“We are also beginning a small addition to the front of the food bank to provide space for our new Community Connection project. This new space will allow us to help address underlying causes of hunger by connecting those in need with services to help them get ahead,” she said.

Food, of course, is the major necessity of life.  But other things, such as clothing and furniture, are highly important, too.  That’s where The Good Cheer Thrift Store locations in Langley and Clinton play vital roles.

“We heard the community really felt it when our thrift stores closed in the early months of the pandemic. That’s why we always keep a selection of warm clothing and other necessities at our food bank and distribution site for shoppers to take as they need,” Squire said.

“Furthermore, we have arrangements with other helping organizations on the Island. When they hear of someone in need of a bed or sofa or kitchen necessities, we arrange for them to receive it free. An example would be a family exiting from temporary shelter trying to set up a home of their own with virtually no savings,” she said.

A genie inside a magic lamp who grants three wishes makes for a fine story, not to mention an entertaining movie.  But it’s just that – a story. The Clyde Theater’s Magic Change Jar is for real, yielding real benefits. 

Find more information at theclyde.net/the-virtual-magic-change-jar-rides…/ or go to goodcheer.org.