Sharing the rising cost of living

Published on Thu, Apr 11, 2002 by Jack Kintner

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Sharing the rising cost of living

By Jack Kintner

A new food cooperative in the area is growing so fast they’re in desperate need of new space after only three months of operation.

“My grocery budget has shrunk by $100 a month for a family of four, and we’ve got two teenagers,” said Lori Furman, one of the organizers of the new county-wide Second Harvest Gleaners food cooperative based in Birch Bay. “This is growing fast because it works, but we do need more space.”

For a $15 annual fee per family or household and two hours of volunteering for each person per month, members share free food from overstocks donated by area stores and, in the summer, from what can be gleaned from area farms once a crop has been harvested. Though the bulk of the food is produce, Furman said that many member families were able to make a complete Easter dinner last weekend, “all except for the meat, but still, that’s quite a lot for a large family.”

Furman along with Tammy Wojcik and Dennis and Margaret Tulett, began the non-profit food distribution program in January of this year after helping distribute two tons of salmon last summer gleaned from a Centralia hatchery. “Tammy’s sister called us, and we brought it back and gave it all away in an afternoon,” said Furman. That, and Furman’s experience with a gleaner cooperative in Oregon, led to the founding of Second Harvest in January. There are now 61 families and households that have joined in the first three months of operation “and we’re getting four or five new families each week,” Furman said.

Right now the food distribution facility is next to Furman’s garage in the Double R Ranch development on Blaine Road, and even though volunteers are re-building it this weekend, doubling its size to 400 square feet. “We’re growing fast, and would love to have a place that’s a lot bigger even than this,” she said.

She said that a key piece in putting this together has been the help and advice offered by Gary Matthews, who runs the 27-year-old Skagit Gleaners in Mount Vernon. Matthews said that his membership fluctuates, but that over 300 families have already renewed membership for this year. “We keep track of the hours each member works, because this a cooperative effort, not a charity,” he said.

Volunteers pick up and sort food, staff the distribution center and work on fund-raising activities. “For those who aren’t as physically able, we have phone trees, computer work and day-care staffing so others can work,” Furman said. “We’re working people stretching our food dollars in these tough times. We don’t screen people but if a member doesn’t work for six months then he’s dropped.” Furman added that they have a number of single parents whose work schedules made them change the food distribution hours from Friday evening to Saturday morning.

Not all stores she’s contacted have been willing to contribute their out of date produce and baked goods, but Craig Wilson, Assistant vice-president for food safety at Costco headquarters in Issaquah, said that from a grocery store’s point of view there can be unacceptable risks associated with “out of code” food, though Costco itself does contribute locally to the Salvation Army and to area food banks. “There might also be health issues associated with the way the food is handled,” said Wilson.

“That’s why we don’t usually have meat products,” Matthews said, “but since we’re a cooperative we can afford the freezers and refrigerators needed to store and handle the food safely. Matthews and Furman both emphasized that their facilities are inspected regularly by the county health department. “Our motto is ‘Waste not, want not,’” said Furman. “If people are willing to work, there’s no reason for them to go hungry.”..

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