By Isaac Bonnell
Mike Cohen has a lot to be thankful for. As the executive director of the Bellingham Food Bank, he is thankful that community support for the organization is keeping pace with rising demand for food.
Since 2007, the number of visits has risen 40 percent and the Food Bank now averages 8,500 visits each month. And so far, the Food Bank has yet to run out of food.
In October, the annual Community Food Drive collected a record 255,000 pounds of food, far surpassing last year’s record high of 220,000 pounds.
“It’s a lot of food to kick off the season,” Cohen said.
Local businesses such as Industrial Credit Union and Haggen Food & Pharmacy played a big role in collecting those donations, Cohen said. And the support from business people went even further. An anonymous group of business people calling themselves the Bellingham Whatcom Business Folks Giving Back donated 530 frozen turkeys to be distributed for Thanksgiving.
“2010 has been a very tough year for those finding themselves unemployed, underemployed or in other very difficult situations,” said one of the group organizers in a press release. “The group wants to share with those using the services of the Bellingham Food Bank, and wants to provide a positive example to others in our local community to have them consider digging down as well to help others whose needs are more challenging than their own.”
Donations of money are just as important as food donations, Cohen said, especially as government support is shrinking.
“The average check we recieve is $30. That check is incredibly critical,” Cohen said. “We’re good at stretching those dollars. It may not feel like a lot, but it’s a significant amount to us.”
Since food donations by themselves often do not make a balanced diet, the Food Bank purchases milk and meat to round out its nutritional offerings. This year, the Food Bank will spend more than $100,000 on food and will give out nearly 10,000 half-gallons of milk.
While the holidays are a busy season for donations, demand for food is highest during the summer, when families have to do without the schools’ free lunch programs, Cohen said. So Cohen’s challenge is to keep donations coming in throughout the year.
“Our goal is to make those seasonal donors year-round donors — because hunger is a 12-months-a-year issue,” he said.