Darrington Food Bank’s closure hits clients hard

DARRINGTON — Annette Battell has been struggling along, but some of those who usually rely on the Darrington Food Bank are making a 100-mile round trip to Everett to get help feeding their families.

Battell, 48, has been an occasional food bank client since she was 18 years old. Now on disability, she and her husband have been surviving recently on his unemployment check and the last of the staples they received from the food bank nearly two months ago.

That’s when the food bank closed after losing its longtime home in the town’s old city hall building. The town condemned the crumbling building, where the food bank paid an annual lease of $1, because of safety concerns about structural damage, faulty electrical wiring and mold.

Plans call for the food bank to begin serving its clients again by the end of the month, with distribution likely at Darrington First Baptist Church, food bank president Cathrane Lyons said.

The church offered basement space for the food bank weeks ago. However, health district officials told Lyons that the food bank must store its supplies separately because food cannot be locked away at the church, Lyons said.

The food bank is waiting for the delivery of two donated 40-foot containers that will sit on U.S. Forest Service property down the road from the church, Lyons said. As soon as the containers are set up, the food bank plans to retrieve its supplies from the old city hall building and resume its help to residents in need.

In the meantime, clients must drive to food distribution programs in Oso, Marblemount and Everett, Lyons said. The round trip to Oso is 34 miles, and it’s a 52-mile round-trip drive to Marblemount in Skagit County.

“We were told to drive to Marblemount, but none of our vehicles could make it,” said Battell, who also has been a volunteer at the food bank over the years. “The food bank is the talk of the town. Everybody’s been asking me when it’s going to open again.”

The Volunteers of America Everett Food Bank plans to continue to serve Darrington residents until the Darrington Food Bank has a stable home, said Bill Humphreys, vice president of operations at Volunteers of America.

“We want to help our hungry Darrington neighbors through this difficult time,” Humphreys said.

About 100 Darrington-area families, roughly 300 people, rely on the Darrington Food Bank during the course of a month. The coalition of food banks in Snohomish County hopes that the food distribution program in Darrington gets on its feet soon, Humphreys said.

“It doesn’t make sense for folks to drive all the way down here for supplemental food,” he said. “These are tough times.”

The food bank coalition has seen a 9 percent increase in the number of people seeking help during the last three months while donations have decreased, Humphreys said. In April, nearly 37,000 people from more than 12,000 households in Snohomish County visited food banks, he said.

For those in Darrington and all across the county, “we need the community to continue to be thoughtful and generous with food bank donations,” Humphreys said.

The town has kept the Darrington Food Bank’s freezers and refrigerators running at the old city hall building and previously offered to let the food bank put its storage containers in the hall’s adjacent parking lot. But because of safety concerns, the town has limited food bank officials’ access to the hall to a one-time moving day, Mayor Joyce Jones said.

If the town had allowed the food bank to get into the building and get supplies out on a regular basis, Lyons said, food distribution might have resumed earlier.

Jones, who has praised the work of the Darrington Food Bank and the volunteers who have come forward to help with its plight, said Monday that her concerns are for food bank clients and for the safety of those who might go into the old city hall building.

“We’re not fighting the food bank,” she said.

Despite the challenges in finding a temporary home for the food bank, as well as a permanent solution for its long-term stability, Lyons said she is optimistic that the Darrington Food Bank will get past its challenges within a few weeks.

“It will come together one way or another,” Lyons said.

For Battell and other Darrington Food Bank clients, many of whom are retired and elderly or hold down low-paying jobs, it can’t come soon enough.

“There are young mothers in Darrington who depend on it for food and diapers,” Battell said. “I wish everyone in town, not just the grocery store, would support the food bank.”

Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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