Hungry, Helpful and Happening: The Bellingham Food Bank
By Alyssa Bruce
This last year alone, staff and volunteers served an astounding 180,000 people at the Bellingham Food Bank, according to their records.
Mike Cohen, executive director of the Bellingham Food Bank, said the food bank was able to provide 3.5 million pounds of goods to the community last year.
He said these resources went to people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. As a result, the food bank was able to serve 20 percent of the Bellingham community.
Among those clients are Western students, Emilia Prosser and Gennady Ensley.
“I have been there before when I have had no food at all,” Ensley said. “It is just nice to go and get food that you want to eat.”
Ensley said supplies have been limited at other food banks, many of them giving away only starches, pastas and other boxed or canned foods. She said this is not the case at the Bellingham Food Bank.
Cohen said he is proud of the wide variety of nutrients and selection of food options they have been able to offer the community.
“Most of the folks who come here are people who have jobs and families,” Cohen said. “So the nutritional makeup of the food they get here is critical.”
He said he is especially excited for the next agricultural season, because the food bank buys a lot of produce from local farms. Local bakeries, farms and other food purveyors are also major contributors to obtaining such high-quality goods for the community, Cohen said.
“We are one of the busiest food banks in western Washington,” Cohen said. “But we also generate a tremendous amount of support from our local community, so we are able to keep up.”
Ensley and Prosser said they were impressed with the quality and variety.
On a recent trip, they said they found lots of fresh fruit, milk, eggs and even an entire tri-tip steak. Ensley said the food bank also offers essential non-food items like toilet paper or even pet food that help greatly.
Ensley and Prosser described the food bank as both welcoming and inclusive. They said part of that positive vibe comes from the volunteers who help run it.
Among those volunteers was Patrice Anderson, a friendly woman with silver hair. Packing up boxes full of goods, Anderson said she has been volunteering at the food bank for a few years.
Though she worked in retail for 37 years, the engaging atmosphere of the food bank has made her never want to leave. So many people want to be involved that volunteer positions are limited and it can take a while for one to open up because it is such a positive place to be, Anderson said.
“The rewarding part is knowing how appreciated it is,” Anderson said. “Some of the same people come through the line, and they are still so thankful every time.”
The general consensus among employees and volunteers is that the food bank is ultimately succeeding in its efforts to help the community, but they are able to do so only because of the support they receive from the Bellingham community.
Cohen said the food bank is regularly taking donations at their location on Ellis Street where they also provide goods three days a week.
Anderson said the only requirement to receive goods is to provide a piece of mail to prove their residency in Bellingham. They can return once every week as needed.
For Ensley, this is a great system compared to other food banks she has visited. Some require extensive paperwork and allow resources to be received on a monthly basis, she said.
Cohen said that the Bellingham Food Bank serves the young, the old, families and students regardless of background, with the most important part being that they reach as many people as possible.
“We are a friendly place,” Cohen said. “Everyone is welcome here and we try to serve people with as much dignity as possible.”