Northwest Harvest seeks more volunteers amid summer-long shortage
YAKIMA, Wash. -- As families get ready to send their kids back to school in a few weeks, it's also a time that burdens some people even more.
One in five children in Washington lives in a household that is struggling to put food on the table.
However, Northwest Harvest is aiming to feed even more people this year as it celebrates 50 years of service.
“Summer is difficult; summer always seems to be a challenge,” said Northwest Harvest Community Engagement Manager Sherri Bissell.
A time when volunteering significantly drops. The statewide nonprofit relies heavily on the community, particularly school and youth groups to help feed the hungry - donating food, money, and especially their time.
“We need those volunteers to sort it, re-package it up, and get it ready to go out to the food banks,” said Bissell.
The organization delivers to food banks in every county. And harvest time generates lots of produce from generous farmers and processors around the valley.
“We focus on nutrition; it's important to us,” said Bissell. “People are hungry but that doesn't mean that they have to eat bad food.”
Thirty-three million pounds of food was distributed statewide last year, with 6.3 million from Yakima alone. Something Bissell said is impossible with just nine full-time employees, making new volunteers like Carol Parsley and Nicole Pyke critical to success.
“I decided I wanted to volunteer, and I looked through the volunteer [options] and this was the one that shot out at me and I wanted to do,” said Parsley.
Northwest Harvest clocked in 100,000 volunteer hours across the state in 2016 - the equivalent of 52 full-time employees.
Bissell said Yakima averages 725 volunteer hours a month. But a downturn of 200 hours throughout the summer has now prompted a new approach from organizers.
“We're going to have a challenge with our Spokane warehouse,” said Bissell. “We're encouraging our volunteers to do a little bit more, or people who haven't volunteered can try it out and volunteer for two-hour shifts.”
Bissell said you can also host a food or fund drive, which is equally helpful when 67 cents feeds a family of three.
“It's something fun they can do; it's another way to help,” said Bissell.
Helping some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
Northwest Harvest leaders said the challenge starts this fall and will go until the end of the year.
Packing shifts are available weekday mornings, afternoons, and evenings as well as one Saturday per month. Volunteers must be at least nine years old. For more information to sign up click here.