It doesn’t have to be an anniversary year for Connie Nelson to celebrate the contributions of a nonprofit agency called Second Harvest.
The director of the food bank at Spokane Valley Partners, Nelson counted some 785,000 pounds of nutrition received through Second Harvest last year, approximately half of the food bank’s annual total. In 2010, SVP donated food to over 12,000 households.
“Second Harvest helps smaller food banks accomplish their work,” Nelson said. “Their combined distribution system allows us to have a reliable source of food.”
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Second Harvest, established in 1971 as a central warehouse for several Spokane area food pantries. Over four decades, the organization has distributed more than 237 million pounds of food to sites across Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
“They have done quite a few amazing things in 40 years,” Nelson said.
“Sometimes it takes a bigger agency to do the yelling for us. They’re the loudest voice in Eastern Washington for hunger.”
At SVP, an increase in fruits and vegetables from Second Harvest now means a “farmers market” distribution at the site on Broadway each Wednesday. Nelson said the food bank has been receiving an average of 15,000 pounds of fresh produce a week for the program with the latest crop including apples, potatoes, pears, corn, onions and more.
SVP is one of 250 neighborhood food banks and meal centers throughout the region that currently benefits from Second Harvest. The agency distributes an average of 1.5 million pounds of donated food to these sites each month.
Jason Clark, president and CEO of Second Harvest, said the state of the economy in recent years has contributed to a departure from many of the stereotypes historically associated with food banks.
“There’s a broad spectrum of folks that now find themselves in these circumstances,” Clark said.
For the past 25 years, Second Harvest has been conducting a client survey that goes out to around 700 households. Clark said the annual review helps the agency “stay grounded and connected.”
The emphasis on feedback and networking hearkens back to the early days of the agency when it was still known as the Spokane Food Bank. Founder Kay Porta and groups like the Greater Spokane Council of Churches helped to establish a reliable resource that supported 13 sites, including the Valley Food Bank. In 1978, a citizen-led group called the Friends of the Food Bank was formed to take the lead on local food drives and fundraising efforts. Within a year, the coalition had 600 contributors.
Craig Goodwin, pastor the Millwood Presbyterian Church, is one of many community leaders who applauds Second Harvest for their efforts to address nutritional shortfalls across the region. In the summer of 2009, Goodwin began discussions with Second Harvest about bringing a mobile food bank to the West Valley neighborhood. In November of that year, the first distribution took place. It has now been a staple on the civic calendar for nearly two years, serving an average of 160 households – and providing around 8,000 pounds of food – on the second Friday of each month.
Second Harvest has also supported other relevant causes in the Millwood area, including a community garden and the Plant-A-Row program.
“Second Harvest has been outstanding,” said Goodwin. “Not only do they do a great job getting food to people, they help the community understand issues of health and nutrition.”
In 1995, Second Harvest added its distribution center thanks to a $1.55 million community donation drive. Currently, the agency has generated close to 70 percent of a $3 million goal as part of a capital campaign to update and expand its main warehouse just east of downtown Spokane, a renovation that will allow for increased distribution of food.
“We could bring in millions of pounds of more food but we couldn’t process it,” said Melissa Cloninger, Second Harvest’s director of corporate and community relations. “It’s one thing to get the food and another thing to put it on trucks and get it out there.”
Clark said the agency continues to place a priority on healthy foods at all levels of the organization. Second Harvest collaborates with the Spokane County branch of Washington State University on a program called Food Sense that emphasizes various aspects of nutritional education.
Other Second Harvest efforts like the Kid’s Café – providing healthy food to local children at YMCA sites and local youth centers – and the Brown Bag program, delivering nutrition to area seniors in a Meals on Wheels format – address thousands throughout the region affected by poverty.
Clark said the graciousness of volunteers – last year over 2,000 residents donated nearly 54,000 hours to the cause – and food donors continues to be the key to Second Harvest’s ongoing mission. Grocery chains like Rosauers, Yoke’s, Albertson’s and Wal-Mart, as well as many smaller companies and farmers contribute millions of pounds each year.
“Everyone who works in the food industry cares about helping people,” Clark said. “It’s about doing the right thing.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about Second Harvest’s programs and volunteer opportunities, call 534-6678 or visit www.2-harvest.org. The Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank is located at 10814 E. Broadway and can be reached at 927-1153.