Monroe food bank work is a joy and a worry

MONROE — At a food bank that isn’t banking as much food as it needs, volunteer Paul Challancin is waiting for manna from heaven.

Challancin, 63, wears many hats at the Sky Valley Food Bank. He sits on the board of directors, advises food bank director Julie Morris on purchasing, helps finalize the operating budget and works as the warehouse manager.

If you were to ask him, the most important job he does is making sure that food gets to the hungry — even when there isn’t that much food to go around.

As he stood in the bustling warehouse, his gaze fell on shelves full of canned soup and spaghetti sauce, a veritable ­cornucopia of food that would be gone within the week.

It’s up to Challancin and his fellow cadre of volunteers to make what they have work.

Challancin has lived in the Sky Valley area since 1976 and has donated to the food bank since 1998. One day while waiting for the food bank to open so he could drop off a check, he sat in his vehicle and watched as people lined up outside waiting to get in.

“It was at the right time in my life since my career was winding down. Watching those people wait outside made me want to get out there and volunteer,” Challancin said.

As the warehouse manager, he monitors the amount of food coming in and going out, and with the current economic turmoil his part-time volunteer job has almost become full time.

Challancin has watched the number of people served double since January, as well as food costs. The cross-­section of people who come to the food bank goes beyond the typical stereotypes someone might have, he said: construction workers, Boeing employees, landscapers, people who have been laid off or had their hours reduced and are desperate to make ends meet.

As the number of food bank clients continue to rise, so has the price of food.

“A pallet of potatoes used to go for $200 in January, but now it’s up to $400. It’s tough watching the number of clients going up,” Challancin said. “We’re in a situation where we are struggling to maintain our food supply.”

The Sky Valley Food Bank isn’t in jeopardy of closing its doors, but may have to limit the amount of food it distributes to clients.

To Challancin, that’s just as bad.

Despite the current difficulties, Challancin was still upbeat as he toured the warehouse, pointing out the various amenities the volunteer staff are able to give to their clients. Pallets of frozen turkeys sit in freezers with signs that read “for holidays only,” along with a locked storeroom that holds a treasure trove of presents for children at Christmas.

Challancin is a reluctant Santa Claus, so the duty of playing St. Nick is given to another volunteer. Still, he makes sure gifts continue to make their way into the storeroom for Christmas.

“Paul is one of the most dependable people I know,” Morris said. “I know people who have paid jobs and are not nearly as dependable as he is.”

Morris is Challancin’s biggest fan and considers him a mentor. The two regularly meet to think of new ways to maintain the food bank’s current level of giving.

So far, its getting harder and harder to make ends meet.

“I’m a volunteer, as is everyone here in the warehouse, but the costs keep climbing,” Challancin said. “Donations pick up around the holidays and that is where we make the bulk of our stores for the year, but right now we’re scraping by.”

Challancin said that while food drives and donations are great and nothing goes to waste, the best way for people to donate is to give monetarily. Using an area food bank resource called Northwest Harvest, Challancin is able to buy three times as much food as he could at a supermarket.

But that’s a worry for another day as he bent over and helped move large bags of rice to a table where other volunteers sorted the grains into small plastic bags.

“The physicality of the job is the hardest part for me,” Challancin said. “But knowing that you are helping someone who needs it makes the sore knees and back all worthwhile.”

Reporter Justin Arnold: 425-339-3432 or

Talk to us

More in Local News

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers speaks to the crowd during an opening ceremony at the new PAE2 Amazon Fulfillment Center on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Snohomish County executive pitches $1.66B budget

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers announced his proposed budget Tuesday afternoon. Public comment is slated to begin Oct. 10.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

Most Read