Demand for food increases with fewer donations at Maple Valley Food Bank

It hasn’t been easy to keep the shelves filled at the Maple Valley Food Bank the past nine months as the country has sunk into a recession that has not spared Maple Valley or Covington.

Lila Henderson, executive director, said though the food bank has struggled at times the community has always stepped up and helped when asked.

“On the first of December, our shelves were so empty I couldn’t believe it,” Henderson said. “We put a call out to the community and the shelves were filled.”

During the holidays at least 100 clients were coming in a day to get food but Henderson said that has since dropped off a bit.

“Food is still coming in but the demand is higher,” she said. “We’ve done some food drives so we’re back to being full but that will go out quite quickly.”

Henderson said the data the food bank has collected shows that from July to December 2008 there was a 45 percent increase in demand compared to the same period in 2007. In the meantime, there was a 38 percent decrease in food donations, which required a significant increase in food purchases to supplement inventory.

Joanie Hains has watched the line increase as more clients come to the food bank for service and even though there have been fewer donations she and other volunteers have found ways to make sure everything stretches — even if it means they give each client a little less.

“Were getting the clients. We had 131 one day,” Hains said. “The food, well, I know the stores have cut back some. When the stores cut back we have to. By the end of the day this is all gone.”

Hains said she and her fellow volunteers do everything they can to help new clients some of whom never expected to need the food bank.

“We’ve had people come in here in tears because they’re so embarrassed,” Hains said. “But when they see how it works and it’s just like a grocery store it gets easier.”

Hains, who has volunteered for more than two years at the food bank, said the volunteers do their best to help their clients smile before they get through the line.

Volunteers arrive at 8 a.m., Hains said, and work until 10:30 a.m. setting up the food line with fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, cookies, crackers, soup and more.

“It’s very gratifying to help people,” Hains said. “It’s worth the aches and pains at the end of the day.”

Henderson said community members can help in many ways if they don’t have time to volunteer.

They can set up food drives, donate food at the Greater Maple Valley Community Center or Covington Library, or even write a check.

“My dollar goes further than anyone else’s,” Henderson said. “That way I can buy based on our inventory. So just keep the donations coming in. I don’t think unemployment is going away too fast.”

Another option this summer would be for families to start a Grow Row.

“We’re encouraging people to grow vegetables for the food bank,” Henderson said. “That’s a great way to get your kids involved.”

The United States Post Office branches in the area are gearing up for the annual food drive in May which Henderson will help fill the shelves for the summer, as well, while the Covington Rotary hosted a food drive April 4 that brought in 300 pounds of food as well as $1,100. Rotarians chipped in an additional $500.

Highpoint Church also donated an additional $1000 to the food drive according to Marti Steindl from the Covington Rotary Club.

“It’s nice to have (food drives) always going because it helps keep us in the limelight that the need is still out there,” she said.

Henderson is not sure when the food bank will see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“It really depends on what the recession does,” she said. “We’re reactionary to what’s going on in society. In the near future I don’t expect demand to go down.”

For more information about the Maple Valley Food Bank log on to

Statistics from the food bank for the period of July 2007 to June 2008:

• 53 percent of clients are children and seniors

• 10 percent of clients are disabled

• More than 4,700 individuals served

• 55,760 visits were recorded

• 715,961 pounds of food was distributed

Christmas gift program for children up to 15 years old:

• In 2007, 797 children participated

• In 2008, 923 children participated

Holiday meals with a turkey and all the trimmings:

• In 2007, 796 families were served

• In 2008, 948 families