Anti-hunger group disbands after 30 years

Northwest Harvest South passes baton to county food bank

By Stover E. Harger III, Columbian neighborhood news coordinator

Published:

 

How to help

• As it ends operations, Northwest Harvest South is asking its donors to begin giving directly to the Clark County Food Bank.

• Donations can be dropped off at the food bank, 6502 N.E. 47th Ave.

• Reach the food bank at 360-693-0939.

• The food bank says a $12 cash contribution can feed a family of four for up to five days.

After 30 faithful years helping feed the hungry in Clark County, Northwest Harvest South is disbanding.

Since 1983, the Vancouver-based ecumenical nonprofit has dedicated itself to gathering money and food, predominantly from church members, to aid food charities in Clark County. Northwest Harvest South is a significant benefactor of the Clark County Food Bank, and after a final audit this month plans to transfer its remaining $14,000 or so to that organization.

In recent years, Northwest Harvest South has faced nagging dilemmas: aging leadership, a lack of new donation streams and duplication of fundraising efforts with the Clark County Food Bank. A few times, Northwest Harvest South found itself competing for grant money with the food bank.

Board President Lynne Helmke said she has led discussions for months within the organization about whether it should close its books, shift its money and ask its regular contributors to start donating directly to the county food bank. At its December meeting, board members voted to do just that after, Helmke said, Clark County Food Bank staff assured them the final contribution would be used only to buy food, not for salaries or other operating expenses.

Business perspective

Helmke, who joined the board in 2006, said longtime members were understanding, yet disappointed it was all coming to an end.

"I approach this strictly from a business perspective: 'Are they (the Clark County Food Bank) better to do this?' I felt, yes," Helmke said. "We all felt as a board that what we were doing is great, but it was pretty much going to be status quo."

Last year was Northwest Harvest South's second in a row gathering more than $1 million worth of food. That's after years of steady donations.

But Helmke said it became increasingly difficult to attract new board mem

bers and donors. There just wasn't enough fresh blood to envision a strong future.

"The board was getting very old," she said. "I'm 65 and I was the youngest person."

Accomplishments

Vancouver residents might know the organization from its donation drives at local churches; others might have benefited from its annual Thanksgiving-time turkey-buying spree. In November it once again teamed up with the county food bank to hand out nearly 3,000 frozen turkeys -- at a cost of more than $33,000 -- to help families celebrate the holiday with a traditional feast they normally couldn't afford.

Besides food purchases, its latest tax filing shows the group's biggest expense was a $7,920 yearly salary for director and founding member Jean Socolofsky. The others who ran the charity were volunteers.

Northwest Harvest South is not affiliated with Seattle hunger-relief agency Northwest Harvest, though it got approval to share the name.

The organization was created by a coalition from area churches, including some who, like Socolofsky, remained heavily involved through its entire existence.

Clark County Food Bank Executive Director Alan Hamilton said he immensely respects the decades of dedicated work from Northwest Harvest South toward their shared goal of confronting the county's hunger problem. Last fiscal year, the food bank distributed more than 3.9 million pounds of food.

"They've been a huge liaison between lots of individuals, in particular the churches and faith communities in Clark County, and have been an absolute huge help for decades toward meeting the needs of hungry people in our community," Hamilton said. "We look forward to continuing that heritage."


Stover Harger III: 360-735-4530; http://twitter.com/col_hoods; stover.harger@columbian.com.