Private donors boost new food bank warehouse

They're the largest funding source for effort




More people are having to rely on community food banks, not surprising given the dismal economy.

But, with the economy in mind, it may come as a surprise to learn the single largest funding source for the new Clark County Food Bank Distribution Center was private donors, John McDonagh said Thursday during a ground-breaking ceremony in the Cold Creek Industrial Park off Northeast Minnehaha Street.

“That’s quite a statement,” said McDonagh, publisher of the Vancouver Business Journal.

McDonagh said more than 3 million pounds of food was distributed through county food banks last year.

Steve Rusk, business administrator for the Salvation Army, which manages the Clark County Food Bank, said that 26,356 different households in Clark County received food assistance last year, benefitting 84,459 people.

The need peaked in November 2009, Rusk said.

The current leased Stop Hunger Warehouse, at 8,000 square feet, doesn’t have enough room to properly store, sort, repack and distribute food. The Clark County Food Bank routinely has had to turn down offers of bulk food and large shipments of fresh produce.

About 100 people gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the start of construction for the new $4.2 million distribution center.

In addition to $1.73 million from private donors, funding includes $1.47 million from the state, a $712,000 federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $466,000 Community Development Block Grant from the city of Vancouver and Clark County.

In September 2008, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray managed to insert the $712,000 construction allocation into the final Bush Administration budget.

Page Phillips, Southwest Washington regional director for Murray’s office, said Murray was unable to attend the ceremony because she’s staying within a 10-mile radius of her daughter, who’s due to give birth any moment.

“She uses this project of an example of how earmarks can be good,” Phillips said.

Local staff members also attended on behalf of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Edmonds, and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas.

‘We don’t turn our backs’

State Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, recalled the fight for getting the state money for the distribution center.

In the capital budget, it came down to either the distribution center or emergency generators for Washington State University, Moeller said.

“When people are hungry, they need to be fed,” Moeller said.

“We are one Washington, and we don’t turn our backs on our neighbors in need,” he said.

Dick Lauer, executive director for St. Vincent de Paul, said when he first started putting together food boxes 20 years ago the contents always included cans of tuna, pork and beans and packages of ramen noodles. There were no fresh fruits or vegetables or dairy products; bread, if available, was not fresh.

The new distribution center will have enough space to store large shipments of food, as well as built-in refrigeration, offices and meeting space.

“No longer will semi-trucks full of potatoes be turned away for lack of storage space,” Lauer said.

The Clark County Food Bank anticipates being able to move into the center by the end of the year.

The capital campaign, meanwhile, continues as the food bank needs to raise more money to build out a Learning Kitchen and conference rooms. The food bank also plans to establish an endowment fund to help defray operating costs over the long term.

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Scott Hewitt of The Columbian contributed to this story.