Vickie Houk has a secret about her husband and the other Pierce County bikers they hang out with on the inside theyre big teddy bears who sometimes shed tears.
The bearded, skull-cap-sporting Bob Houk rides a red 2003 Harley-Davidson Road King. Hes also the president of a Tacoma food bank that has given 287 families Thanksgiving dinners this year.
The Houks help run the BASH (Bikers Against Statewide Hunger) food bank, which held its annual Turkey giveaway Friday. Boxes included the basics for a festive dinner.
Holiday giveaways are full of emotional moments for the motorcyclists. Like when an elderly woman thanked them for the Christmas gifts theyd given her and said they were the only presents she gets each year. Or the look on needy childrens faces when they see their families have a holiday dinner.
BASH is one of several nonprofit organizations struggling to feed the needy this holiday season. For example, of the 2,000 turkeys the Tacoma Rescue Mission sought this year, it had 60 at the beginning of this week.
Much of the food comes from the Emergency Food Network, which helps supply 67 Pierce County food banks, meal sites and shelters, including BASH and the Rescue Mission.
Visits by the needy to the networks organizations increased 46 percent from 2008 to 2011, and theyre expected to go up about 8 percent this year, to more than 1.3 million, network development director Jeff Klein said.
Were basically just stretching and stretching and stretching, Klein said. Were doing the best we can.
Buying in bulk allows them to stretch every dollar to about $12 worth of food, he said, adding that tough times have forced them to be increasingly efficient.
FISH Food Banks of Pierce County report serving 463,302 people so far this year, compared with 365,991 during the same period in 2011. Officials added a Key Peninsula location in April 2011 and a mobile food bank early this year to serve areas without a nearby food bank.
BASH was started in 1995 as a way for bikers to help other bikers. The Houks and others took over the organization in 1998, and it now distributes monthly food boxes to anyone in need.
It also gives away food for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
You cant even explain what its like to be around BASH on our holiday giveaways, Vickie Houk said. Its very emotional. Youve got these bikers with these big beards, and it brings tears to their eyes.
The operation has grown to include five refrigerators and seven freezers at its office at 118 141st St. Court S. It has about 15 regular volunteers.
These big, bad ugly bikers turn into big teddy bears, Vickie Houk said. You dont think of them as having hearts, but they really do.
BASH closed its food bank after Fridays giveaway and will reopen it Dec. 1 after its stock is replenished.
The Houks used to run the food bank out of their home, but BASH outgrew that space in 1998 even after the couple took over their youngest daughters room when she left for college.
They say its hard to make rent on the latest location, but moving the operation back to their house really isnt an option.
The scope of it is just so big that theres just no way we could even imagine to bring it back, Vickie Houk said. It just couldnt happen.
About a month ago, BASH had a Turkey run fundraiser that brought in about $1,400. Bikers donate to participate in the annual ride, with stops including motorcycle shops and taverns, and ending with a raffle.
The money helped but didnt cover the $4,300 the group spent on turkeys this year, which needed to be ordered about a month in advance.
We have to still keep going as if were going to have the money, Vickie Houk said.
She said she wasnt sure how BASH was going to pay for the birds it ordered until she got a call Nov. 13, alerting the group that it had won a $10,000 grant from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.
While money is tight, demand for the food banks services is increasing.
I thought it was going to be getting better, Vickie Houk said. Its actually getting worse. Were getting all the people now that have no income at all.
Monique Garneau visited BASH for the first time Thursday and is grateful that she did.
She recently moved from California and is still getting settled.
She plans to go back to school, but that could take a while, said Garneau, who is blind.
Id like to be able to finish college, she said. It takes me longer than normal to do things like that.
In the meantime, she has BASH.
Volunteers at the food bank told her about the turkey giveaway, and now shes set to have Thanksgiving dinner with her boyfriend and Welsh Corgi in their new apartment.
I dont know anyone here to be able to have as family for Thanksgiving, she said. Thats been weighing on me heavily, because everyone I know is in California. The people at BASH were so very nice and helpful.
The visit was a role reversal for Garneau, who said shes used to being on the other side of volunteering through her former church.
It is very humbling, and Im very grateful and appreciative, she said.
Bob Houk helped Garneau to the bus stop with her food Friday.
We do more than just feed people, he said. We provide them with hope.
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268
HOW TO HELP• To donate food or money to BASH, call 253-531-9600
• To donate food to the Tacoma Rescue Mission, bring items to 425 South Tacoma Way between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visit rescue -mission.org/thanksgiving for more information.
• To donate food or money to the Emergency Food Network, visit efoodnet.org/donate or call 253-584-1040.
• To donate to FISH food banks visit fishfoodbanks.org.