Gifts from the Heart celebrates 20 years with big announcement
— Created September 21, 2022 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
There are exciting things in store for Gifts from the Heart food bank in Coupeville.
An event Saturday celebrating the food bank’s 20th anniversary was the perfect setting to make some big announcements concerning the organization’s next 20 years.
“First, we are building our own food bank,” said Molly Hughes, board president of Gifts from the Heart. “For years, the food bank has been stashing away pennies – and I do mean pennies – in a building fund. Ken Hofkamp, owner of the Red Apple Market, sold us the back parcel of a vacant lot between Frontier Building Supply and Terry Mobile Park at a really good price. It’s the perfect location for us. It’s walkable for a lot of our clients, it’s low impact and it will be low maintenance, which is what a food bank should be.”
The property has already been purchased and Hughes said the food bank has been working with John Roberts from Cascade Custom Homes on the design and floor plan.
This is big news for the 20-year-old food bank, but believe it or not, that’s not the really big news, according to Hughes.
“Our new food bank will be about 2,000 square feet on the first floor, and on the second floor will be two, two-bedroom apartments designated for workforce housing,” she said. “We’re still working it all out, but we know our two apartments will be able to rent at below market rate.”
There is no official date on when construction could begin on this project, but Hughes anticipates when it does, it will take a year or two to complete. When it does move to its new location, Gifts from the Heart will also switch to a new food distribution model.
“When we have our new building, we will move to a shopping model,” she said. “Many food banks are doing that if they have the space. We can’t do that currently because the Boys and Girls Club is also in our [current] building so we have to pack everything away following our distribution days.
“We’re really excited for the shopping model,” Hughes continued. “It’s better for our clients, it’s a better use of the food we get. For instance, if someone is on a low sodium diet, they might pick different foods than other clients. And for the ethnic foods we get from donations, we know not everybody will use them, so this way people can pick out what they’d like.”
Cost for the new food bank building is estimated to be about $950,000 for everything, including shelving, refrigeration and freezer units, as well as everything for the two apartments above the food bank. And this is where the final portion of the big announcement comes in, said Hughes.
“We have half of that [$950,000] already,” she said. “We had been saving, but prior to COVID, we got an unexpected donation. We asked if we could put it in our building fund. During COVID, everybody was so generous, but at the same time, we were getting a good supply of government food. Also during that time, we got five really large, unexpected donations. We asked if we could also use those for the building fund. That’s why we have half the money already.”
Hughes said the board is already working with a grant writer to identify and apply for other sources of funding for the project before going to the community.
“We want to see what we can generate on our own,” she said. “I expect we will have to ask the community for help, but we’re still trying to get as much as we can before that. This will not be starting from scratch.”
Volunteers with Gifts from the Heart, which has served an average of between 85 and 100 clients during its two distribution days each month, know what it’s like to start from scratch. The food bank literally started in a closet in the Jim Davis house at Greenbank Farm. It then moved to a non-operational walk-in freezer at Greenbank, which was used to store food. For several years, bags were packed at Greenbank Farm, then had to be hauled to Coupeville for distribution. Anything left was hauled back to Greenbank for storage until the next distribution day.
Gifts from the Heart moved into the old fire station in Coupeville more than a dozen years ago and has rented the building for its operations ever since, but it hasn’t been alone.
“At exactly the same time as we rented the building from the fire district, the Boys and Girls Club was in the same position, they needed a place,” Hughes explained. “We agreed to share the building for a year or two, and here we are 12-15 years later. In the meantime, the Catholic church bought the property, and it has honored the long-term lease we had with the fire district. But we both need to have a forever home.”
Hughes said she is excited for what this next chapter holds for Gifts from the Heart, but said she knows it couldn’t have happened without the Coupeville community.
“We would not have been here 20 years if we didn’t have rock solid volunteers who are committed to working with our clients,” she said. “And I want to say ‘thank you’ to our community. We have so many community members that religiously give us $10 a month or $25 a quarter. Every one of those donations is important.”
In addition to funding the ongoing food distribution operation, those donations help fund another very important program at Gifts from the Heart. The Meals to Kids program started nine years ago and provides weekend food bags to youth at all three Coupeville schools (elementary, middle and high schools) who are experiencing food insecurity. A dedicated group of volunteers runs the program, bagging food up each week and delivering them to classrooms where teachers can slip the food bags into students’ backpacks.
“It is a 100 percent referral program,” Hughes explained, adding it has been a successful program. “We added it up – we have distributed close to 11,000 bags. We purposely kind of keep it under the radar, but starting this week we will be providing food bags to 50 kids between all three schools. The people at the schools know who needs help, so it’s been a really good partnership.”
As far as the new building, Hughes said the board will continue to work through the pre-application process and make final decisions as the permitting process moves forward. While the new location will come with some new expenses, rental income from the apartments will cover those costs. Hughes said Coupeville area residents can rest assured the all-volunteer organization will continue to be a good steward of the money it receives.
“We know we will still count really heavily on the community for food drives,” she said. “We will still have that need, but we will also be able to say when someone gives us a dollar, that dollar is going to buy food. We’ve always worked on a shoestring. We will still be very good stewards of the money given to us.
“I’m excited we have thought of a way to be sustainable, to be able to pay our own way,” Hughes continued. “We’ve come up with a way to have a nice building, give our clients a shopping model and we won’t infringe on donors’ dollars for food. It’s such an exciting package. It’s been slow and steady getting here. The community has always been so good to the food bank, and I’m really excited to share this with them and thank them for their support.”
To learn more about Gifts from the Heart food bank, visit giftsfromtheheartfoodbank.com.