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Good Cheer reaches fundraising goal thanks to community support
BAYVIEW — On Thursday afternoon, under sublime sunshine and surrounded by luscious vegetables, the board members, staff and supporters of Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores celebrated the tremendous community support they've received toward making South Whidbey hunger-free.
The nonprofit began its capital campaign in 2005, and Good Cheer has finally reached its fundraising goal of $1.4 million, thanks to lots of compassionate South Whidbey Islanders.
"We're a community that cares for each other," said Gene White, a member of the Good Cheer board.
Good Cheer officials said 419 individuals, 26 local businesses and 15 foundations contributed to the capital campaign, in addition to board members who gave monetary, labor and consultation donations.
Individual contributions ranged from a donation of $118,000 to a $1 bill mailed in by a young girl who wanted to help.
The capital campaign was created to fund a new food bank location and a renovation of the Langley Thrift Store. The food bank in Bayview opened in October 2007, and the thrift store has been undergoing changes since 2009.
When the campaign began seven years ago, Good Cheer's food bank was housed in the back of the Langley Thrift Store, the organization's flagship funding source.
Now in its own building and land on the outskirts of Bayview, the food bank feeds an average of 800 families each month. The new location has been especially important the last few years during the recession - the number of families served per day has increased from about 30 when it first opened to as many as 90 now.
"We don't know what we would have done if we had tried to feed as many people as we feed today in the small space that we had in Langley," executive director Kathy McLaughlin said. "We couldn't have done it."
In addition to serving a greater need through the sour economy, the new location has also granted clients greater anonymity, which McLaughlin said means fewer people go hungry.
"We knew that there were seniors that were going hungry, that weren't using us because they've always been of the generation that they can take care of themselves," she said.
"They're the ones that have always been donating or giving and then they're not comfortable asking for help in return. With this new space we've been able to break through that."
At the same time that some food bank clients appreciate greater anonymity, community members express a strong connection and involvement with the organization.
"The community owns it, it's not one person," McLaughlin said. Whether residents are clients of the food bank, shoppers at the thrift stores, monetary donors or volunteers, "everybody feels that they're part of Good Cheer."
The organization is unique in that the sales from the three stores go directly to funding the food bank. McLaughlin said proceeds from the thrift stores provide for 67 percent of the organization's budget, covering the food bank operating costs.
And the abundant garden on the same property, which produces more than 5,000 pounds of vegetables each year, allows Good Cheer to offer clients healthy food choices. They even encourage healthy eating by charging fewer points for fresh items than for processed foods.
"The better the item, the less points it is, and the better for you," McLaughlin said.
"You can't get more local than cutting it and putting it on the shelf," she said, adding that many clients also volunteer in the garden harvesting the vegetables.
"This is an example of how you can take the land and return it to the people," White said.
But Good Cheer Food Bank is more than just a food distribution center, she added. Because the facility includes a kitchen, it also serves as a food education center.
"Not only do we grow the food, we show people how to use it with cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes," White said. "That's a very important thing to do."
White is familiar with the significance of a well-fed community. She has worked internationally as a child nutritionist, and feels fortunate to be part of a community here at home that is able and willing to support each other.
"I work in other countries where nothing like this would be even dreamed of," she said. "To come here and see it and be part of it, it's just a wonderful gift."
She said hunger in any community generates other problems as side effects, especially with children.
"Children might not attend school, they can't learn when they get there, there's severe malnutrition and they're denied a productive adult life."
McLaughlin said the projects and campaign owe much of their triumph to expert board members like White, who also serves as president of the Global Childhood Christian Foundation.
Other board members have backgrounds in project management, architecture, finance and law, and they've been generous in donating skills and services to the projects.
"The reason that we have been so successful in this endeavor is because of the board members and the expertise that they brought," McLaughlin said.
After all, it's a big deal to commit to a truly hunger-free community.
"We don't ask for income, we don't ask for citizenship, we don't ask for anything. We say if you're hungry, we're here to help you," White said. "That's a tremendous commitment for this community to do that."
"We just want the community to know how appreciative we are of them and how they've supported good cheer," McLaughlin said.
"Next year we'll be here for 50 years, and it's only because of community support that we keep being able to do what we're doing."
Good Cheer continues to accept donations, which are tax-deductible. Checks may be mailed to Good Cheer Food Bank at PO Box 144, Langley, WA 98260.
Patrons of the organization's three thrift stores - the Langley Thrift Store, Good Cheer Two Thrift Store in Clinton and The Rack clothing store in Clinton - help support the food bank as well.
The food bank is at 2812 Grimm Road in Bayview and is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays, and noon to 7 p.m. Tuesdays. For more information, call 360-221-6454 or visit goodcheer.org.