More local families are seeking aid from food assistance programs than last year, according to volunteers in Blaine and Birch Bay.
An increase in need has compelled the Birch Bay Food Pantry to stay open year-round this year, said Lynn Chapman, who helps run the food pantry. She said the pantry has extended its hours into July and August when it was closed for those two months last year.
Chapman said the most families the pantry has served this year so far is 24. Typically, the pantry serves between 18 and 22 families. Families who live outside of Birch Bay typically aren’t allowed to use the service, but Chapman said the pantry welcomes more people if the need is there.
“We don’t turn anyone down,” Chapman said. “Anyone who lives in our area is welcome.”
The food pantry survives entirely off donations and the help of volunteers, Chapman said. Chapman and her daughter, Sue MacOnaghie, started the pantry about four years ago as a pilot program to see how much need there was. Brent Brentnall, the founder of the local Community Assistance Program, helped them set up the pantry’s current location at the Boys and Girls Club in Birch Bay.
Chapman said anyone can volunteer with the food pantry. Eight regular volunteers currently fill the pantry’s needs, but more help is always welcomed.
Chapman said she thinks the pantry is seeing an increase in need because more people are finding out about it and because of the lagging economy. Food pantry volunteers do not collect information on why a specific family is visiting the pantry, and Chapman has noticed that it’s not always the same families seeking aid.
“They use us when they need us,” Chapman said.
Chapman said the food pantry serves some families who, for whatever reason, cannot make it to the Blaine Food Bank. She said she does not ask if any families visit both.
Joan Gregory, the treasurer of the Blaine Food Bank, said she has seen about a 20 percent increase in families requesting aid over the past year. The food bank served about 130 families last Tuesday and upwards of 140 families last Friday.
The Blaine Food Bank relies mostly on donations of food and money, but does receive some federal funding to purchase certain types of foods, such as canned goods. Gregory said the food bank is currently in the market for more fresh produce and would love to work with local farmers to make more fresh food available.
The food bank has between 35 and 40 regular volunteers, but always appreciates more help. Gregory said the food bank especially needs volunteers with good driving records who can lift heavy loads for trips to local grocery stores to pick up large boxes of produce and canned goods.
The food banks' service area stretches from North Enterprise Road to the east and Bay Road and Harksell Road to the south, Gregory explained. The volunteers do not ask any personal information about the people they serve accept proof of residence in the area, such as a driver's license or utility bill. An individual or family not able to show proof of residence will be given food once but asked to show proof of residence on their next visit.
The Blaine Food Bank is located at 500 C Street in Blaine and is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. Call 360/332-6350 for more information or to volunteer.
The Birch Bay Food Pantry is located at 4672 Loft Lane in Birch Bay inside the Boys and Girls Club and is open from 10 a.m. to noon on the first and third Mondays of the month. For more information or to volunteer, call 360/303-9850.
Editor's Note: This story has been edited to fix inaccuracies about the Blaine Food Bank.