Tri-Cities food bank, misson see increased demand (w/video)

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldNovember 25, 2013 

Slipping loaves of bread and a package of muffins into her grocery bags Monday at the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission, Elena Zavala of Pasco eyed the pile of frozen turkeys with apprehension.

"We usually go to my boyfriend's brother's house in California for Thanksgiving and eat tacos and tamales, but not this year. This year we're staying in the Tri-Cities and I'm cooking my first turkey," she said. She and her 11/2-year-old daughter, Cindy Garcia, will be giving thanks this year at a table set for 12.

The food donations from the mission "will make this a good Thanksgiving for us," Zavala said.

The mission and area food banks are anticipating a spike in requests for help this holiday season.

The cold weather is driving people to the food banks as they use their money to heat their homes, said John Neill, executive director for the Tri-Cities Food Bank.

On Monday, volunteers at the food bank's Kennewick outlet were swamped with requests.

"People were lined up outside the door ... before the doors even opened. They set a new record; 118 boxes went out the door," Neill said.

He's hoping for donations of small hams for the holidays.

"That kind of meat is always a luxury for us. It goes out as fast as it comes in. It doesn't get stored very long," Neill said.

The Tri-Cities Food Bank has outlets in Kennewick, Richland and Benton City and are generally open from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Donations can be left at 321 Wellsian Way, Richland.

The staff and volunteers at the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission in Pasco give out more than 100 food boxes a week, said Jerry Jones, food service director for the mission.

"And the numbers are going up," he said. Donations of ground beef, pancake mix and syrup are high on his list for the holidays.

"And coffee, you don't want to see these guys when we run out of coffee," he said.

The mission accepts donations -- food, clothing, cash -- during business hours daily until 7:30 p.m.

There's been an upsurge of requests for help at the Salvation Army too.

Already, the staff gives out 350 boxes of food a month, said Major Julio Vasquez, Tri-City area coordinator for the Salvation Army.

"That's the average," he said. "We're seeing more and more first timers coming to our doors this year. It's a difficult time for families, and our inventory is down."

Vasquez said he'd welcome any nonperishable donations.

"Powdered milk is one thing we can always use," Vasquez said.

Already, 500 families have signed up for the Salvation Army's December food giveaway. To register, go to the charity's social services office at 310 Fourth Ave., Pasco, during business hours on weekdays.

Giant packages of food staples are always welcome at the mission, where they feed 220 people a day. But food banks -- especially the Golden Age Food Share in Pasco -- are grateful for small packages too.

Because the food bank serves primarily low-income seniors, the household often consists of just one or two people.

Sometimes three, if the couple is raising a grandchild, said Anne Montgomery, coordinator for Golden Age Food Share.

"We can use Jell-o, sugar, flour, any kind of canned fruit and meat if we can get it," Montgomery said. The food bank serves about 450 families a week.

Montgomery accepts donations from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday-Thursday and Saturdays. Food distributions are the same hours on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Staff at St. Vincent de Paul Society's food bank in Pasco saw an increase in requests for aid when the harvest season ended, said food bank manager Sina Pierret.

"We gave out 785 boxes of food last week and average 260 to 285 new families each month," Pierret said. "We have a great need for protein of any kind, canned goods, cereal, rice, beans. It's all of great value to our customers."

Baby food, such as small jars of food and cereals, is one item people often overlook when making food donations, she said.

w Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513;

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