Editor’s Note: This month, the Herald is featuring a series of stories on the Holiday Wish Lists of Mid-Columbia nonprofits and how you can help. Does your nonprofit have a specific need for items that the community can help provide? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with attention to Holiday Wish List. Please include the name and mission of the nonprofit, contact information and a few specific needs. See more Wish List stories at www.tricityherald.com/wishlist.
Bill Kitchen expected the numbers to swell around Thanksgiving.
But when he heard that about 212 families sought help from the Tri-Cities Food Bank’s Kennewick location the day before the holiday, he could hardly believe his ears.
“I was blown away,” he said. “I’m used to seeing numbers like 140 as the high number. That would be on a very, very busy day.”
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But the people just kept coming. And volunteers ended up staying past when the food bank usually closes to make sure all were served.
The nonprofit’s Richland location also was especially busy last week, and officials are expecting a Christmas rush as well.
They’re hoping the community will pitch in with cash donations. The food bank can leverage the financial gifts to buy lots of needed food items and also cover other costs that pop up, from vehicle repairs to facility expenses, said Kitchen, executive director.
The nonprofit also has some bigger ticket capital items on its holiday wish list — digital industrial scales for its Kennewick and Benton City sites and 40 feet of pallet racks for the new central office and storage center in Kennewick.
The food bank has locations in Kennewick, Richland and Benton City and runs on donations and grants.
It’s staffed almost entirely by volunteers, with one part-time office manager. Kitchen fills his post as a volunteer.
The food bank’s client base has grown steadily in recent years. Kitchen said many of the people who show up for help have jobs — some even more than one job — but aren’t making enough to cover all their expenses, especially as temperatures drop and heat bills rise.
This year “we got cold weather sooner than (in the past). People are not ready for those higher utility bills,” he said.
Kitchen took over as the executive director in June, and he’s spearheaded some changes. The nonprofit is transforming the former Kennewick food bank building, next to the current site on West Deschutes Avenue, into central storage and office space.
The facility has an area for social service agencies to meet with food bank clients. Kitchen envisions groups such as the Tri-Cities Diaper Bank and Grace Clinic participating.
He’s also championing some technology improvements, including using cloud computing to better share data among the food bank locations.
Kitchen said he “can’t remember being so excited about a job” as he is about the food bank position.
“There’s a lot of excitement now” in the organization, he said.
He noted that a pair of student interns from Delta High School soon will be coming onboard, lending their computer and social media expertise. The food bank also plans an internship for a Washington State University Tri-Cities business student in the spring.
Along with the capital items and cash donations, Tri-Cities Food Bank also could use more volunteers, especially people who can operate a forklift or are handy and can help as needed around the facilities.
For more information, go to www.tricitiesfoodbank.org. Donations can be made to the food bank online or dropped off at any of its locations.
The Kennewick site is at 424 W. Deschutes Ave., the Richland site is at 321 Wellsian Way and the Benton City site is at 712 N. 10th St. Days and hours of operation vary.