-- 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.
Ben Dole stood by an open doorway at the Tri-Cities Food Bank site in Richland on a recent morning, watching as clients perused the canned goods and staples, choosing items to take home.
They get boxes with more expensive products, such as meat, based on their household size.
The rest of the food they pick out themselves, just like they would at a grocery store. The only difference is there's no cash register at the end.
"People can come in and choose what they need. Sliced bread over here. We have dairy. A lot of nice produce that came in today. People really seem to like having a choice," said Dole, who's been a volunteer for about four years.
The Tri-Cities Food Bank, which has sites in Richland, Kennewick and Benton City, has no paid staff and relies entirely on people like Dole to keep the doors open and the food flowing.
It could use more volunteers to join its ranks, particularly people with expertise in office work, said John Neill, the executive director. That need makes the nonprofit's holiday wish list.
Financial contributions, which help the food bank through lean times and can go a long way thanks to discounts and bulk purchases, also are needed.
And when it comes to food items, the nonprofit could use donations of meat such as hamburger and chicken. The food bank was the beneficiary of food drives and donations during the holiday season, but it always needs help, Neill said.
People need to eat 365 days a year, he said.
The food bank sees a spike in clients during the holidays, Neill said. The Richland site, for example, saw about 110 families a day in the days leading up to Christmas, compared to the usual 65 or so. The food bank distributes about 20 tons, or 40,000 pounds, of food a week.
The clientele is changing, with more homeless teens and more seniors struggling to make their Social Security money stretch, Neill said.
The recent reduction in federal food stamp benefits also is taking a toll.
"The struggles that the rest of the country have felt are now being felt in spades in the Tri-Cities," he said. "There's a lot more poverty in this community than (people) think that there is."
He finds the food bank work rewarding. Retired from the banking world, he joined the nonprofit as a volunteer about 51/2 years ago, and not long after became the executive director.
The food bank has a total of about 100 active volunteers. The work is addictive, Neill said, "because of the positive feeling you get helping people that need to be helped."
For more information about the food bank, call 943-2795 or go to www.tricitiesfoodbank.org.
Donations can be dropped off at the food bank sites in Kennewick and Richland between 7:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. weekdays. The Kennewick food bank is at 420 W. Deschutes Ave. and the Richland site is at 321 Wellsian Way.
Donations can be dropped off at the Benton City site, at 712 10th St., from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays and from 12 to 2:30 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursdays.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald