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Central Kitsap and Bremerton food banks prepare for the holidays — Volunteers fuel food banks with time and donations

Bremerton Foodline Executive Director Patti Peterson looks through donations last Friday. Peterson said she is always looking for more volunteers.  - Kristin Okinaka/staff photo
Bremerton Foodline Executive Director Patti Peterson looks through donations last Friday. Peterson said she is always looking for more volunteers.
— image credit: Kristin Okinaka/staff photo

Mary Woehrle filled in at the check-in desk at the Central Kitsap Food Bank on Anderson Hill Road Monday even though it wasn’t her scheduled volunteering day. The 68-year-old has been volunteering at the food bank for about three years.

“I just called. I just wanted to volunteer,” said Woehrle on why she started. “I knew how I would feel if I were in their situation.”

She volunteers twice a week — on Tuesdays and Thursdays — either stocking food on shelves or manning the front desk by checking clients in.

“I love it here. I love everybody that I work with,” said Woehrle adding that she enjoys interacting with clients where she can see how her community involvement has a positive impact on others.

Both the Central Kitsap Food Bank and Bremerton Foodline are fueled by their volunteers who contribute hours to the operation of the food banks.

With the number of clients continuing to increase for food banks, the directors at both say they can never have enough volunteers — especially when the busier holiday season is approaching.

The Central Kitsap Food Bank will assemble Thanksgiving baskets Nov. 18 with volunteer sign-up for that day from Oct. 31 through Nov. 10.

In December, there will be an assembly day for Christmas baskets. For the Bremerton Foodline, volunteers are able to help with Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets the Saturdays and Sundays prior to the holidays.

“We’re always scrambling for volunteers,” said Patti Peterson, executive director of the Bremerton Foodline.

Peterson said that the foodline has dropped from consistently having 20 to 25 volunteers a day to eight a day.

But, the numbers show that clients being served are increasing — which isn’t a surprise in the economic climate.

In 2006, 12,762 food baskets were distributed from the Bremerton Foodline. Last year, the total number of baskets increased to 17,280.

Hoyt Burrows, executive director of the Central Kitsap Food Bank, said that during his 14 years of working with food banks in Kitsap County, client numbers have increased everywhere.

In 2009, a total of 7,269 households were served by the Central Kitsap Food Bank. Last year the number climbed to 7,929 households that took food from the food bank.

For the volunteers at both food banks, aside from sorting donations and stocking shelves, volunteers are also responsible for checking clients in, transporting and loading goods and helping clients navigate through the facility to gather appropriate items.

Burrows said having volunteers who can commit to a long-term schedule is ideal,  but that anyone can help.

“Just call the office, we’ll make arrangements,” Burrows said. One of his favorite aspects of his job is working with the volunteers, he added.

And though the operating hours of the food banks — both are Monday through Friday during the daytime — may make it difficult for people with 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs or students who attend school to volunteer, there are always other ways to help.

Tucker Alexander, 13, has held a “yard festival” at her family’s Bremerton home every summer since she was 5 to fundraise money for the Bremerton Foodline. It includes selling baked goods and handmade bracelets as well as vegetables and flowers from her family’s garden.

The first year she fundraised about $100 but to date she has made nearly $10,000 for the foodline. Last year, $1,792 came in through the support of neighbors, friends, former teachers of Tucker and other community members, said Ivaly Alexander, Tucker’s mother.

“She works really hard for it. She bakes for a week,” Alexander said of Tucker’s personal commitment to the endeavor.

The idea for the yard festival came about after Tucker visited the Foodline with her mother, who was donating items. After being explained that some people don’t have enough food to eat at home, she wanted to do something to help.

“I love donating it and making a difference and knowing it’s the right thing to do,” Tucker said. “It’s really fun. I’ve never not wanted to do it.”

Being retired, Roger Smith and his wife wanted to find a volunteer opportunity that not only satisfied them but helped others. He and his wife have been volunteering at the Central Kitsap Food Bank since the start of the year.

“It certainly contributes to their life in positive ways,” he said.

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