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Sept. 21, 2020

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Volunteers step up, help out during rainy Walk & Knock food drive

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter
7 Photos
Roxie Olsen, left, passes donated food to Ali Parmenter during the Walk & Knock food drive on Saturday at Chuck's Produce. Olsen previously served as a Walk & Knock board member for 15 years. Now, she continues to volunteer.
Roxie Olsen, left, passes donated food to Ali Parmenter during the Walk & Knock food drive on Saturday at Chuck's Produce. Olsen previously served as a Walk & Knock board member for 15 years. Now, she continues to volunteer. (Steve Dipaola for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A line of one dozen shopping carts, filled with donated food, tripled over the course of an hour outside Chuck’s Produce in Salmon Creek on Saturday morning during the annual Walk & Knock food drive.

Rain soaked hundreds of bags filled with shelf-stable foods — cereal, pasta, instant mashed potatoes, canned vegetables and other items overflowed the carts.

“We’re getting a great response from the neighborhoods in the area. Everyone is coming out and giving,” said coordinator Charlie Atkinson.

For decades, Walk & Knock’s collections have hovered upwards of 250,000 pounds. It started out as an informal effort of local Lions Clubs in the early 1980s, but by 1985 it had a name and a structure behind it.

Through his research and talks with other food banks around the nation, Clark County Food Bank President Alan Hamilton determined that Walk & Knock is the nation’s largest local single-day recurring food drive.

Walk & Knock occurs every year on the first Saturday in December. Volunteers drive around the county picking up bags of donations that people are asked to leave on their doorsteps or front porches by 9 a.m. The bags are taken to 10 drop-off sites and packed into semitrailer trucks and delivered to the Clark County Food Bank. From there, the food is distributed among numerous local food banks which distribute the collected food to people in need.

The drop-off site at Chuck’s Produce was buzzing with activity by 10 a.m. Saturday. About 35 volunteers, according to Atkinson, were scurrying about in front of the store in sopping wet rain coats. Others were off picking up bags around Alki and Gaiser middle schools and Chase Bank in Salmon Creek, he said.

Taking a break from crouching down to lift bags into the semitruck parked directly in front of Chuck’s, Roxie Olsen, said the amount of items is evidence of county residents’ genuine desire to give back. She previously served on the board of Walk & Knock for 15 years, including a stint as the president. Now, she simply wants to continue helping out.

Olsen said she lived in poverty growing up, and the food drive is her way of reciprocating the help she received in her formative years.

“I’m paying it forward,” Olsen said. “I’m not the only one. Volunteers really step up during the season, and it shows there are always givers.”

Rain on the day of the food drive is common, Olsen said, and does not deter people from coming out. Several years ago, it snowed a significant amount, but a year of planning meant the drive went on despite the winter weather, she said.

Next in line on the inside of the semi were a group of students, members of the National Honor Society at Skyview High School.

In between handing off bags and boxes to fellow students, Frankie Palandrani said the food drive is fun and a good way to practice community philanthropy.

“I’m going to need help with this one,” Palandrani said as the volunteer in front of her handed back a tote full of cans.

“Teamwork,” she said.

Although she personally does not know anyone struggling with hunger, Palandrani said her high school as a “care closet,” where students can donate clothing for kids. She said the honor society encourages public service, and she sometimes works with the county food bank.

“It’s really important. It helps you see the need, and gives you an idea of all the extra food in some people’s homes,” Palandrani said.

The amount of donated food collected each year during the Walk & Knock depends on the economy, organizers said. The most food was collected during the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010. Walk & Knock President Tom Knappenberger said 283,000 pounds of food were donated last year. In 2017, the 286,000 collected pounds of food broke a six-year streak of declining donations. It will take a few days before there’s a final tally of this year’s collections.

Knappenberger said he thinks people are more aware of the need for food when there are daily news stories about a recession. Currently, employment is up, the stock market is doing well, he said.

“Unfortunately, there’s still a huge need for food out there,” he said. “We hope that people understand that and give food. Of course, there are the people who give every year regardless.”

Atkinson, the Chuck’s Grocery coordinator, said it was his first year helping with the food drive. He has also volunteered at the food bank, making it one of his preferred methods of improving the welfare of others, because the need is visible. (The county’s food bank distributes 6.6 million pounds of food and 5.5 million meals a year).

He also spoke highly of the food banks educational program that aims to alleviate food insecurity.

“I believe in what we’re doing out here,” Atkinson said before stepping out from underneath a canopy and back into the pouring rain to direct an incoming load of donations.

Correction: The above article reported that Chuck’s Produce in Sherwood hosted one of the drop-off sites for Walk & Knock. The store is located in Salmon Creek.