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Good Cheer serves record number of South Enders

BAYVIEW — While Good Cheer has served nearly 14 percent of the South End population last year, volunteers at the food bank have long known that the number of people in need is much higher.

But most had no idea how many families remained in the shadow.

Since the food bank’s move to Bayview in October, Good Cheer has learned that the number is much higher than expected.

Good Cheer’s new food bank has been seeing record numbers of people. Recently, 55 people came through its doors for supplemental food – a new daily high.

“We did not expect it to be this big of an increase,” said Kathy McLaughlin, Good Cheer’s executive director. “The middle school did a food drive and donated

500 items. Usually, 500 items would have lasted us a week. It was gone in one day. We put it out and it was gone,” she said.

Good Cheer Food Bank has been averaging 33 households a day – triple the amount who had used the food bank when it was located in the back rooms of the Langley thrift store.

It’s not just the new location, even though moving the food bank to a more centrally located facility to make it easily accessible was a main goal, Mclaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the South End economy has been taking one serious hit after another and people are struggling.

“We’re seeing more people for a variety of reasons,” she said. “The economy isn’t very strong and more people who’ve been laid-off from their jobs are coming in ­­— and not just Nichols employees. Gas prices are having an effect on household budgets and higher gas and electric bills are hitting, as well.”

The new facility may be a factor, too.

“I also think that part of the reason for the increase is that people are feeling a little more comfortable coming to the food bank because of the Bayview facility’s greater confidentiality and better parking,” McLaughlin said.

“People don’t have to push their groceries through the thrift store anymore and out onto Anthes Avenue to load their car in front of everyone,” she said.

Whatever the reason may be, people certainly are showing up.

“I’m kidding with customers. This is like a store now, you’ve got to wait in line,” she said.

The food bank now works like a grocery with a check-out line. Families can now also come in more than once a month since a point system was implemented at the food bank.

“Our new food points system may also be attracting a few people as well,” she said. “With greater choice in selecting food for their family, and more food available, the word is out that the food bank has improved. Numbers are up across the board, but we are especially serving more homeless, seniors and households with children,” McLaughlin said.

However, the busy food bank is a strain on Good Cheer’s dedicated pool of volunteers. Between the increase in numbers and the implementation of the new system, more people are needed to stock food and run the checkout.

“We need volunteers so much,” McLaughlin said.

But higher numbers also mean more food is needed.

“Our average for the year before Bayview we were distributing 24,911 pounds of food per month to 316 households, McLaughlin said. “With the increase in amount of food we are now distributing and the increase number of households we are serving our numbers have changed.”

Good Cheer served 505 households in November and distributed 79,588 pounds of food. This does not include the free Thanksgiving meal.

And 97 new clients who never used the food bank before signed up in November, McLaughlin said.

A recent $20,000 in-kind donation by PayLess Foods has been a godsend in supplying a volume of turkey, chicken and other meats not often available through Food Lifeline, a regional buying source for food banks, or Northwest Harvest, McLaughlin said.

But increased client numbers have also meant Good Cheer staff must make extra trips off-island to pick up additional food staples to keep the shelves stocked.

“This has meant increased gas for the truck and more ferry tickets,” McLaughlin said. “The move to Bayview also required additional staff labor as one would expect.”

Good Cheer counts on increased income from its thrift store long term. Once the capital campaign goal is met and Phase II of the strategic plan is completed, the additional retail space in Langley Thrift Store will expand Good Cheer’s funding base so that it can better keep pace with the increased demand at the food bank.

“Right now, though, we’re hoping the community will be generous to this year’s holiday fund drive,” McLaughlin said.

Last year the community donated $57,493 to the fund drive, which was spent on food for the holidays and for the first five months of the year.

To learn more about Good Cheer, call 221-6454 or visit

www.goodcheer.org.

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