By Neil Watkins
It hardly seems possible that seven years have passed since I assumed responsibility for Sky Valley Food Bank. Now, with my Aug. 1 retirement on the horizon, I have been visiting with our volunteers and some of our donors discussing the upcoming change.
I recently had dinner with a close friend and donor and he asked me, “What have you learned over the last seven years?” I’ve thought a lot about all the things we’ve accomplished, but what have I learned?
Age doesn’t matter: We have nearly 100 volunteers that work here every month. I would venture to say that the average age of our volunteers is about 70 with several well into their 80s, yet our older volunteers work as hard as our younger. When you look at the crew that opens the warehouse at 6:30 in the morning, they’re usually all “seniors” (who stay until we close at 11:30). We’ve had volunteers in their 90s who worked until they medically couldn’t work any longer, a real testament to their desire to give back to the community!
People are basically kind and good: I have watched so many acts of kindness over my years at the food bank, clients helping each other or bringing special food to our volunteers, and the community always stepping up to meet our needs as they arise. It has been an education seeing the goodness in people and their desire to do the right thing. When folks see something that doesn’t seem right, they let us know so we can monitor the situation. We take care of each other!
Neighbors helping neighbors is more than just words: An organization’s motto is often an idealistic, nice-to-hear slogan that speaks to hope and not reality. Sky Valley Food Bank truly embodies its motto every day, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” is our core reality.
In our volunteers who work hundreds of hours every month, our donors who allow us to purchase the food we need and our local grocery stores who donate surplus food seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, we see “Neighbors Helping Neighbors!”
From Monroe all the way up to Index and Skykomish, we see our neighbors stepping up to make sure no one is hungry. That is the work we are dedicated to, and we couldn’t do it without our neighbors’ help!
So as I come to the end of my time leading this organization, the thing I am most proud of is the sense of neighbor and family involvement we maintain, not just among the volunteers, but throughout the community! Monroe is such a caring and giving community, a real model for other towns!
It has been my honor to serve you. Thank you for your amazing support over all these years. My replacement will be Cindy Chessie, whom I hold in the highest regard. Please embrace her as you have me. She won’t let you down!
You are in my heart and always will be! Goodbye for now!
Neil Watkins is the executive director of the Sky Valley Food Bank.