After a decade of helping the hungry, the Food Bank thanks its supporters

Patti Larson (left, standing), coordinator of the Community Connections Food Bank, poses with some of the many people in town who have supported the agency's work over the last decade. The Food Bank held a public celebration of its 10th anniversary in the Begbie Room at the Regent Inn on Thursday afternoon. The event was attended by about 60 people. David F. Rooney photo

By David F. Rooney

Ask Jane McNab about the Community Connections Food Bank and the retired social worker will tell you she never thought it would grow the way it did after she and other local women worked to establish it 10 years ago.

“We knew there was a need, but we never imagined how great that need really would be,” she said as she and other food bank supporters gathered at the Regent Inn to mark 10 years of hard work.

McNab and Food Bank Coordinator Patti Larson laughed as they recalled some of the lighter moments of getting the small agency up and running but what they best remember is the enormous amount of support that awaited them within the community.

“All kinds of people wanted to volunteer,” Larson said “We turned them all down. And we still get people offering to volunteer and we still keep turning them down.”

McNab said one of the goals of the Food Bank was to acquire its many volunteers from within the ranks of its clients. Accepting charity can be difficult for most adults, so allowing them to help out provides them with a sense of purpose and helps maintain their individual sense of self-worth and dignity.

“That was a key objective,” she said.

Getting the Food Bank established back in 2000 took some doing. Larson said a group of women — including McNab, Nelli Richardson and Maureen Waddell — connected to various social service agencies recognized the need for a Food Bank when it became apparent that entire families were in economic distress.

During an interview two weeks ago, she noted that the Food Bank’s very first, then-monthly, food distribution handed out 51 hampers for 105 people, including 39 children. For the next three years it distributed food on a monthly basis. But in 2003 the agency instituted a weekly bread and milk distribution and, in 2007, it began “a full-on weekly” Friday morning food distributions.

“Now if we fast-forward to 2010 we helped 104 households a week or 714 people over the course of a month, including 188 kids,” Larson said. “The demographics have really changed. In the beginning just about everyone we served was on income-assistance. But now, it’s very different. It has changed to seniors, disabled people, single people and the working poor — families where mom and dad both work but can’t earn enough to feed their children nutritious food. Trying to feed your family nutritious meals is very expensive.”

The Food Bank has over the years become one of the most broadly supported social service agencies in the city, receiving tangible support in the form of cash and food from children to seniors and from churches and banks to businesses and government institutions. Much of the credit should go to the indefatigable Larson who works hard and long to keep it organized, find food, put together programs and courses to help the hungry and raise money.

Speaking personally, having written about the Food Bank many, many times over the last 10 years, I think I can say that the Food Bank’s bittersweet success is a tribute to Patti Larson’s dedication and profound sense of community.

Thanks for your hard work over the years, Patti.