MUKILTEO – Keeping people fed takes work.
The volunteers at the Mukilteo Food Bank are more than willing to do it, without pay – some of them for more than 20 years.
It helps that it doesn’t seem like work.
“I look forward to this every other week, because we have so much fun here,” said Cliff Huds-peth, 85, as he handed out bags of meat and groceries. Hudspeth has been volunteering at the food bank for “20-something” years.
“This is a fun group of people,” said food bank director Jack Bateman, owner of the Rosehill Chocolate Factory. Bateman has been with the food bank a decade.
“Did you say this is a funny group?” added volunteer George McConnell.
The exchange is typical of the good-natured banter among the 30 or so people who keep the food bank running. They pick up food from grocery stores and other donors, put bags together, set up tables and hand out food four days a month.
The food bank spent its first 25 years at the former Mukilteo Presbyterian Church in Old Town. When the church sold its original home in December, but had yet to put the finishing touches on its new building at 4514 84th St. SW, the food bank was left without a fixed address.
Volunteers handed out food from a pickup truck parked at the former church for nearly two months before moving to the new building at the end of February. The food bank’s new home has walk-in freezers, plenty of shelf space and a good-sized room in which to set up tables and hand out food.
At the former church, “they kept the food in the old furnace room,” Hudspeth said.
In the new space, tables are set up in a U shape and recipients go down the line at stations. First is Hudspeth’s table, where he hands out prepared bags of groceries and meat.
“They don’t get by me without getting it,” he said.
After that, recipients have their choice from among cereals, canned items, condiments and special items.
On March 22, food bank secretary Mary Lou Robertson handed out Easter baskets with fresh vegetables and dyed eggs. Robertson, 75, has volunteered with the food bank since the early 1980s.
She started volunteering as a way of helping the church, she said. Many, but not all, of the food bank volunteers belong to the Presbyterian church. It’s a way to help people and stay involved in the community, she said.
“I like to come because of the camaraderie,” she said. “It is fun because we meet so many nice people.”
More than 6,000 families used the food bank between 2000 and 2004, Robertson said.
“We have some people that have 10 or 12 people in their family,” she said.
“We have waited for babies to be born,” volunteer Sue Knight said.
With repeat customers, especially, volunteers get to know them and their special food needs and do their best to help.
“The people here have been absolutely accommodating to me and my family,” said customer Kristin Martin of Mukilteo, a single mother who has been coming to the food bank for about two years.
Some volunteers help with other needs, such as language. Zhanna Kochubey, who immigrated from Ukraine, takes time from her job at the Everett Housing Authority to translate for Eastern European families at the food bank. She speaks Ukranian and Russian, and understands Polish, Czech and Bosnian.
Kochubey checks people in at the door, recording their names on a computer.
“They tell me every time they are grateful for the people that are helping them,” she said. In Ukraine, they don’t have food banks for those who need help, she said.
One elderly woman was crying and said, “‘Tell them, thank you very much,’ ” Kochubey said.
“That’s what we’re here for,” Bateman said.
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or email@example.com.