Social media is a powerful tool for communication and community connection.
That power was demonstrated last week when the Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank posted photos on Aug. 23 of nearly-bare shelves, freezers and fridges and asked for the community’s help stocking up.
Gig Harbor responded.
Donations, both in food and cash, immediately began flooding the volunteer-run nonprofit organization from the community, said Ron Coen, president of the nonprofit’s board.
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“We have had bonanza since we put (our post) on Facebook,” he said. “The town is responding ... the response from Facebook, that’s over the top.”
Several people have walked in with cash donations, which allows volunteers to purchase perishable items or use the funds in one of the organizations many other services.
The depleted shelves are a common problem in food banks around the country and is known as the “summer slump,” said board member Janilyn Mallavia.
We have had bonanza since we put (our post) on Facebook. The town is responding...the response from Facebook, that’s over the top.
Ron Coen, Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH board president
“Typically, donations are down in the summer as school is letting out and people are leaving town,” she said. “Food banks across America see this, it’s not just in Gig Harbor.”
Food bank resources are often used more heavily by struggling families in the summer, Mallavia explained, with children home from school or parents trying to make ends meet for necessary school supplies.
“A lot of times (for) these children, the meal they’re getting at school might be the only meal that they get during the day,” she said.
Coen noted that 37 families visited the food bank Aug. 23 alone, the push Mallavia described right before the start of school when money can be tightest.
“People don’t necessarily want to come in. They come because they need help,” Coen said. “We’re out there to help people, but in a way to protect their dignity.”
Clients at the food bank are escorted through their visit with a volunteer guide and allowed to choose from a range of products that best suite their family.
The food bank saw about 3,300 families last year, and has already seen 3, 334 families this year, totaling 7,700 individuals, Coen said.
It provided $1.5 million worth of total aid last year, including volunteer hours and donations. The total food distribution for last year was $675,000 and $341,000 was received in cash donations.
“There is a bit of an increase and we always anticipate more,” he said. “The need is growing. To be more efficient we are going to need to build a new facility. The city has been very supportive.”
Coen and his wife, Jan, started the food bank more than 40 years ago in Gig Harbor and have been involved since.
Typically donations are down in the summer as school is letting out and people are leaving town. Food banks across America see this, it’s not just in Gig Harbor.
Janilyn Mallavia, Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH board member
“It’s an amazing group of people. But Ron and Jan, they’re so humble and kind,” Mallavia said. “They know that they wouldn’t have been able to do it for over 40 years without community support. It says a lot about the community we live in, Gig Harbor and the Peninsula.”
Over the years, Coen has seen an increase in the need for the food bank’s service in the Gig Harbor area, and has also seen the community support its neighbors.
Along with donations from individuals in the community, organization volunteers pick up donations three times a week from various businesses, local and national, from around the community. Those partners include Target, Fred Meyer, Safeway, Costco, Main & Vine, Starbucks, Cutters Point and Dairy Queen, among others including local community gardens.
Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH is not just a food bank, but also provides other programs and support to those in need, including financial assistance and a college support program, with 25 local college students currently in the program receiving support for bridge tolls, gas, books and food.
“Most of these people are the first in their families to go to college,” Coen said. “Once you get the first person launched, the next people will probably go. That will change lives. And that’s what we’re doing, changing lives.”
We have people come in in bad shape and then come back years later to donate. That’s the most satisfying thing. At some point we’ve got to be thinking ahead. The needs are not going to go away.
Mallavia said that the organization has been spreading awareness about the summer slump. It has recently partnered with the city of Gig Harbor for a food drive and has received donations from other food drives including Canterwood groups and the annual Swim with FISH fundraiser.
“Gig Harbor FISH food bank kind of are known as the heart of the community. They’ve been doing this for over 40 years,” she said. “We’re trying to build that public awareness that we do so much more than a food bank.”
Helping the community and providing a support to those in need are the main goals of FISH, and Coen continues to work alongside the more than 200 volunteers to see them accomplished.
“We have people come in in bad shape and then come back years later to donate. That’s the most satisfying thing,” he said. “At some point we’ve got to be thinking ahead. The needs are not going to go away.”
Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank
Where: 4425 Burnham Dr., Gig Harbor
Hours: Mondays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Donations are accepted during those times.
Contact: 253-858-6179 or online at ghpfish.org.