Food bank to construct new building

After two decades, a Central Whidbey food bank will finally have a home of its own.

After two decades of feeding the community, a Central Whidbey food bank will finally have a home of its own.

Gifts from the Heart Board of Directors President Molly Hughes announced that the nonprofit has plans to construct a new building that will include not only expanded facilities for the food bank, but an affordable housing component as well.

The new space will be located on Terry Road between Frontier Building Supply and Terry Mobile Park. It will be two stories, Hughes said. Food bank operations will take place on the first floor, half of which will be taken up by storage facilities. The other half will be where clients can pick out the foods they want.

“We’re really looking forward to going to a full shopping model when we’re in this building,” said Hughes, who is also the Coupeville mayor. She emphasized that her advocacy for and role with the food bank are entirely separate from her position with the town.

At the food bank’s current space on North Main Street, which it shares with the Boys and Girls Club, there is not room for clients to “shop” for their own food. Instead, food bank volunteers provide families with pre-filled bags of standard nonperishable items, then allow clients to select their own protein and produce items.

With the additional space in the new building, clients will be able to select all their own food. Hughes said this will allow Gifts from the Heart to better serve the public because clients with dietary restrictions or preferences can have more control over what they and their families eat.

The top floor of the building will have two apartments, each around 900 square feet with two bedrooms, to be rented out at “way, way, way below the current market rate,” Hughes said. Even at a low rate, rent from these apartments will cover the increased operating costs associated with moving into a larger and newer facility, meaning donations from members of the public will continue to pay for food.

The entire project will cost an estimated $930,000. The food bank currently has around 50% of the total project cost, an impressive feat for a small nonprofit, Hughes said. She said the nonprofit has been contributing to a building fund, pennies at a time, since its inception, but most donations it received had to be put toward food and operations.

During the pandemic, however, donations increased significantly. Gifts from the Heart received several large donations, Hughes said. She and other food bank board members contacted the donors to ask whether they would be okay with their contributions going into the building fund, and they agreed.

To cover remaining costs, Hughes said nonprofit personnel will spend the next three to six months researching and applying for grants from foundations and government agencies. Community members who wish to donate to the building fund may do so on the food bank’s website.

Hughes said she estimates the food bank will be able to move into its new location within the next two years.

Hughes announced the new building at the food bank’s 20th anniversary celebration Sept. 17. When the nonprofit launched in 2002, it operated out of a closet at Greenbank Farm. It has since evolved into a full-fledged food bank with a core group of long-time volunteers that consistently serves hundreds of families each month.

“In 20 years, we have never turned a client away or run out of food,” Hughes said.

The food bank has also been able to expand its Meals2Kids program, which sends school kids in need home with food packs over the weekend. Hughes said the food bank started off this school year with 50 students, its largest number ever. The kids attend all three schools in the Coupeville School District, not just the elementary school, which used to be the only school served by the program.

Board secretary Aloha Hart, who began volunteering at the food bank in 2010 after retiring from a 35-year career in health care, said sending friends and neighbors home with the food they need is her favorite part of her work with Gifts from the Heart.

“I like to see services delivered to the people who benefit from them, and I clearly get to see that at the food bank,” she said.

For all the support the food bank offers the community, Hart and other volunteers said, the community returns that generosity in equal measure.

“The community has been so generous and faithful,” said board treasurer Michele Johnson, adding that the food bank has never had to ask for donations because the community donates so much unsolicited.

Hughes said though issues and concerns constantly arise, Whidbey residents pull through year after year with what she calls “the food bank miracle,” by making donations, stepping up to volunteer or allowing the food bank to borrow space.

“We have had absolutely rock solid consistent support from our community,” she said.