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Keeping folks fed: Food bank important to community, volunteer says

by CHERYL SCHWEIZER
Staff Writer | November 23, 2021 1:03 AM

MOSES LAKE — Karen Zerby said she was in Moses Lake a few days when she was invited to tag along on a trip to the Moses Lake Food Bank.

And with that visit, Zerby found her niche.

“I came in with (a family member) one day when she came to get food, and I asked if there were any openings for volunteers,” she said. “I started the next week.”

She moved to Moses Lake after retiring from a career with Boeing. The company had an extensive volunteer program, and Zerby said she was very active in it. The volunteer opportunity arrived at the food bank within a week.

“Which was good, because I’m not a homebody,” she said. “I love to meet people.”

Zerby started volunteering at the food bank in 2012. Her first job was in the back of the house.

“When I first started here I did sorting in the back room. Took the donations and divided them up where they were supposed to go,” she said. “Then an opening came up on the desk.”

Food bank director Peny Archer said the food bank had, and has, a lot of volunteers who have worked for decades, up to 30 years. But their very longevity meant they were at high risk when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The food bank was closed temporarily, and when it reopened there were volunteers who couldn’t, or didn’t, come back. Zerby took one of those spots.

Zerby and her fellow workers at the desk meet customers when they arrive, she said, check the status of the account and direct customers where they need to go.

“Once a month they go through a main line, and the other three weeks they go through a weekly (line), which is a little less food,” she said.

The desk crew also are among the last people customers talk to before they leave.

“You try to say something positive to each customer, because some of them have very long faces,” Zerby said.

Some customers are battling illness or have family members who are sick, she said. Others have lost a spouse and are coping with that loss, on top of loss of income.

“I’m a widow myself, so I know what that’s like,” Zerby said.

Archer said the food bank has seen an increase in customers in general.

“Our numbers are ticking up. More and more seniors, unfortunately,” Archer said.

Zerby works three days each week. She said she likes to come in a little early, check to see if some of the non-food donations, diapers being an example, are out where customers can find them. She checks the copy machine and does some chores so she’s ready for customers, she said. She said it’s an important volunteer job.

“It’s just being part of the community. Because there isn’t anywhere you can go in Moses Lake that you don’t run into somebody that you’ve helped, waited on here, or talked to, or whatever. It’s just part of the community,” she said.

It’s a crucial service.

“(The food bank) helps our community get some food,” Zerby continued. “One thing we all do is eat.”

Some food bank customers are homeless, and the food bank provides a major service to them.

The food bank and its services are key to Zerby for another reason: it’s enjoyable, she said, a good volunteer gig and one she’d recommend to anyone looking for a chance to help out.

“Definitely,” Zerby said.

“We can always use volunteers,” Archer said.

Food donations are always welcome, too, Archer said, especially after a year when food bank usage is up. Inflation has squeezed fixed incomes and economic slowdowns have meant fewer jobs.

“With the increase in clients comes an increase in need,” Archer said.

And the increased use comes at a time when some donors are unable to offer as much support.

“It’s been a really hard year for a lot of people,” Archer said. “And that includes donors.”

The food bank is open from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and donations can be dropped off during business hours. It’s located at 1075 W. Marina Drive.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasinherald.com.

photo

Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald

Karen Zerby checks the card of a Moses Lake Food Bank customer. Zerby volunteers three days per week.