Gabriel van Winkle (center) struggles with lifting a bag of rice weighing nearly half his weight as he and volunteers help move the Granite Falls Food Bank from its old location to a new one Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Gabriel van Winkle (center) struggles with lifting a bag of rice weighing nearly half his weight as he and volunteers help move the Granite Falls Food Bank from its old location to a new one Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

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New digs will give Granite Falls nonprofit room to grow

The small town’s community coalition and food bank have found a home on school district grounds.

GRANITE FALLS — A small-town resource center received a big-time upgrade last week, courtesy of a growing partnership.

The Granite Falls Community Coalition and Food Bank will no longer operate out of two portables and a gravel lot on Granite Avenue. Instead, the nonprofit serving thousands of families a month has relocated to an unused administrative building on the grounds of the Granite Falls School District, adjacent to the middle school and Crossroads High School.

The new space means more storage, meeting rooms and opportunities to provide help.

“There is so much more dignity in having dedicated spaces, there is more dignity in being able to operate from a facility that has what we actually need,” said Ryan Whitton, director of the food bank.

In 2018, a white, metal-sided trailer that housed the coalition and food bank for 40 years was removed. During the pandemic, the temporary, two-portable operation went from cozy to crowded as the food bank began assisting hundreds more families each week.

Whitton, 22, made his office at a table among the towering shelves of food. Another table and a few chairs among the storage served as the volunteer break room.

At the height of the crisis, Whitton said, cars backed up traffic for blocks as families waited for food at Wednesday distributions. Food insecurity was already common in Granite Falls, but Whitton said COVID-19 tore the roof off and exposed the full brunt of community need.

Volunteers, staff and other groups clean and build shelving units in the new Granite Falls Food Bank building Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Volunteers, staff and other groups clean and build shelving units in the new Granite Falls Food Bank building Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

“These are not the traditional people that need these services in the minds of most,” Whitton said. “These are people that are working 9-to-5, both parents, full-time, and they might even make good money, but this pandemic affected them too. You’re seeing people that others may think don’t need those services, but they do, they really do.”

The once-a-week food distributions alternate between two locations in Granite Falls.

On the second and fourth Wednesdays of a given month, food will continue to be handed out from the gravel lot at 307 S Granite Ave from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Every first, third and fifth Wednesday, the food bank serves up Mountain Loop Highway from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Wind of Joy church, 20721 Canyon Drive.

In town, about 200 families attend distribution; on the outskirts, almost 400 families receive assistance.

Dawson McTear uses his cellphone to pound a shelf bar into place as he and others help move the Granite Falls Food Bank from its old location to a new one Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Dawson McTear uses his cellphone to pound a shelf bar into place as he and others help move the Granite Falls Food Bank from its old location to a new one Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

“Those are the people that need the help the most,” Whitton said. “If we’re not providing services to them in a way that they can receive them, then they’re not getting the services at all, and that means they’re hurting.”

To match the pandemic’s unique demands, the Community Coalition expanded services. In addition to debuting suicide prevention and childhood development resources, the nonprofit began a partnership with the school district through which staff from the coalition tutor students before and after school at the local Boys and Girls Club.

The food bank’s new digs grew out of the collaboration.

“In a small town, community organizations can’t work in isolation,” Josh Middleton, superintendent of the Granite Falls School District, said in an email. “The success comes from an interdependent relationship. The school district and city saw this as an opportunity that could continue to serve the needs of our community while providing an exciting educational opportunity for students at Crossroads High School.”

Joe Bradwisch, of Rad Junk Removal, climbs out from between shelving units as he helps move the Granite Falls Food Bank from its old location to a new one Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Joe Bradwisch, of Rad Junk Removal, climbs out from between shelving units as he helps move the Granite Falls Food Bank from its old location to a new one Tuesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The location in the Pop Rogers Building, 205 N Alder Ave., means a separate area to store food, a conference room to meet with donors, a break room for rest and office space for the coalition’s employees.

Less than 100 yards from the middle school and alternative high school, Middleton said the district hopes to offer students active learning experiences at the food bank.

“In this new partnership, we envision students being involved in the marketing of the food bank, development of a Crossroads garden which would go to the food bank and business experience in the operation of the food bank,” Middleton said. “One of the highlights of a district our size, 2,000 students, is opportunity to have a lot students directly involved in cross-community, collaborative events and efforts.”

Last week, a dozen high schoolers on spring break and a crew from RAD Junk Removal volunteered to assist in the move. Heavy shelving units and pallets of food were stacked in pickups and box trucks to shuttle the few blocks across town.

“Change for many can feel like loss. For us, it feels like pure joy,” Whitton said. “We are on top of the world, we have the community behind us and there is nothing we feel like we can’t do.”

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

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