Mid-Columbia food banks see growing need

Families already were lining up in the Richland Food Bank's waiting room before the food bank opened earlier this week.

First in line was Velma Sutton, a Richland widow who used to volunteer at the food bank years ago.

The 82-year-old said she had to stop volunteering when she no longer could lift heavy items. Since the 1990s she has been coming to the food bank to receive food.

Sutton said the food helps her get by on what she receives from Social Security, which she uses to pay rent, medical insurance and other bills.

She sees familiar faces among the other clients and said they visit while they wait to pick up food.

"There are so many people that need help," she said.

The food banks are seeing a greater demand for food this year.

The Kennewick and Richland food banks each have been serving more than 65 families a day. That level of demand usually is expected toward the end of the month, not at the beginning when welfare checks and food stamps have just been issued, said John Neill, the nonprofit's executive director.

The Benton City Food Bank also has seen an increase in demand, he said. It is serving 150 to 200 families a week.

Some of the increase is from migrant families who no longer are getting a paycheck from farm work, Neill said. But he believes some of the demand is reflective of the economy.

"We are feeling some of the impact of the national economy here in the Tri-Cities," he said.

Neill said he anticipates food bank resources are going to be stretched more this year than before.

Food donations have picked up as groups in the community begin to hold holiday food drives, Neill said. But the nonprofit continues to need donations and volunteers.

Lila Saunders, a Richland Food Bank volunteer, said many of those who come to the food bank are out of work or ill. She has a chance to chat with some of the clients as she signs them in to receive food.

Saunders said in the 14 years she has volunteered for the food bank, the average number of families showing up for help each day has gone from 15 to more than 60.

Bob Fuller, vice chairman and administrator for the Othello Food Bank, said an increase in families was expected with the end of the harvest season.

Demand has increased by about 150 percent, and Fuller said he expects that to go higher.

The food bank, which serves those who live in the 99344 area code, had been serving about 300 families a month during the harvest season. Fuller said he expects that to increase to more than 700 families a month.

And each family might be receiving help more than once a month, he said.

"Nobody leaves the food bank without food," he said.

The Othello Food Bank also is providing 55 senior citizens in the area with 30 pounds of food each month through a federal Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Fuller said. The organization started participating in the program earlier this year and has 60 more seniors on the waiting list to get the help.

Richland resident Sutton said many people need the help the food bank provides.

"We are in a wonderful country, and we don't need to let anybody go hungry," she said.