Food banks offer relief this holiday season

The Maple Valley Food Bank and the Black Diamond Community Center offer a variety of services during the holiday season, and throughout the year.

The holiday season is supposed to be a cheerful and joyous time. But according to two food banks in the area, that is not always the case for some people.

The Maple Valley Food Bank and the Black Diamond Community Center host a number of holiday events to help ease holiday stress for those who need that break, financially or mentally.

Maple Valley Food Bank

Sigurros Welborn, program and volunteer coordinator at the Maple Valley Food Bank, said there are two main events the food bank does for those in need of some holiday cheer.

She said for Thanksgiving and Christmas, they offer a holiday basket full of food.

“They’ll get a turkey and all the fixings for their holiday meal. They can come and receive those any time for Thanksgiving any time before Thanksgiving starting the first week of November. And then we do the same thing again for Christmas,” Welborn said.

The food bank gave out around 1,000 holiday baskets last year, she said.

Another big event the Maple Valley Food Bank does during the season of giving is a Christmas Gift Program.

Welborn said this is a chance for parents to come in and register their children for the gift program.

Registration for the program started in October and now as December treks on, volunteers from the food bank are collecting the toys that were donated to barrels set out around the city for community members to donate to, explained Welborn.

Starting about now, Welborn said volunteers will be sorting through the inventory to see how many gifts each child will receive this year.

“Last year we received about 4,000 gifts and around 1,000 kids registered, so they all got four main gifts. But they also get — we also get additional stuff like stuffed animals, those don’t count as one of their main gifts — so they get stuffed animals, games, books and then stuffing stuffers. Some clothes, we usually get a little bit of clothes too,” Welborn said.

There are two days in December for parents to come and collect the gifts for their children to open up on Christmas day — Dec. 16 and Dec. 17, Welborn said.

Welborn explained it is important to put on these holiday events because sometimes it’s hard for people to enjoy the holiday when so much is expected of them.

“There’s an expectation from their children, so yeah. It’s important so that we can provides those families with a festive time for everyone,” she said tearing up.

Welborn said most of the food items and toys are donated from the community or local businesses, but sometimes the food bank does have to pay out of pocket.

To increase the publicity of the food bank, Welborn said they have taken to social media.

Last week on “Giving Tuesday,” an annual charitable giving day that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the food bank was able to raise a little over half of their $10,000 donation goal, Welborn said.

She said this is the food bank’s first time participating in Giving Tuesday, and she thought it went well for the first time doing it.

The money collected will go toward everything the food bank needs. Welborn said the money wasn’t designated for just one thing, it will just go towards whatever is needed at that time.

On top of what the Maple Valley Food Bank does for their clients during the holiday season, they also try to make life easier on them throughout the year.

Welborn said they offer emergency services for their clients, such as helping people with their rent, water and utilities.

She also said this food bank is unique in that the way clients get their food is in a grocery style setting.

“Our clients can come in and walk through like a grocery store and choose all the food that they would want to feed their families, so that parts really nice. I think a lot of food banks’ goal is go towards that. I think it’s a success as far as giving our clients the dignity of choosing their own food, but also I think it’s a lot less food waste. When you give someone a box of food, they’re not necessarily going to eat it all if they don’t get to choose it,” Welborn explained.

She said this normalizes the experience for people and makes them feel better about coming to the food bank in general.

The holiday season increases the number of people Welborn sees coming in, she said.

She said it has a lot to do with the gift giving program that they do.

“We not only see more people do that, but then also since they’re here, they’re going to shop too,” Welborn said.

To participate in the gift giving program, Welborn said the main criteria is that the people who want to register are within the Maple Valley Food Bank service area.

“Our service area is the Tahoma School District, Maple Valley, Covington, Black Diamond and so we have a map. Besides that they just have to show proof of address that they’re in our service area and then ID for everyone in their household. That’s all that we require. We don’t require income verification or anything like that. We figure is someone is here asking for help, that they need help,” Welborn said.

Black Diamond Community Center

Cheryl Hanson, executive director of the Black Diamond Community Center, said they also have a full meal giving program like the Maple Valley Food Bank.

She said 20 to 30 families will get full meals of turkey or ham, that they can pick up on Dec. 19 or Dec. 20.

Another major part of the community center that helps those in need is the coat drive.

Hanson said they will give out free coats, gloves and hats for anyone who needs them.

“These are from a company called Zumiez, they are expensive retailer, but have a philanthropy site. These coats are good for below weather, so anybody that comes in here can get a hat, gloves and (coat). We’ll run this through the end of February or March. So anybody in the Black Diamond area can get warm weather gear,” she explained.

The community center also has a giving tree that provides gifts for children.

Hanson said families who are on the free and reduced lunch program are in their food bank, so they are able to come in and fill out an application to participate in the giving tree festivities.

She continued to explain that parents will write down what the kids need or want for Christmas and then parents can pick up those unwrapped gifts on Dec. 19.

There is a giving tree at multiple locations around Black Diamond that have the items that the kids want listed on the tree so that people can donate what each child is asking for.

Hanson said she has seen a large increase in the grandparents needing assistance in this area.

“We have a lot of grandparents who have inherited, or if their children are incarcerated, or can’t afford to keep their kids, so that’s been a population that’s been increasing all over Black Diamond, Ravensdale, all over,” Hanson said. “I mean we only have 4,300 people in Black Diamond and I bet you we have 12 to 14 pairs of grandparents raising grandchildren. That’s a high percentage. We also have more seniors. Social security isn’t going up.”

Year round, the community center also offers breads and desserts for anyone who is hungry, toiletries for anyone who needs them, hygiene kits, and they will also offer to pay for bills, Hanson said.

She said they will help people with their electricity bills, utilities and even some rental assistance as well.

Another expense the community center covers all year round is gas.

“If your family member has a sick child like at Children’s and they live here and they got to travel everyday, gas vouchers,” Hanson said.

She also said she sees an increase in volunteers during the holiday season because so many people want to help.

“At Christmas we are able to give more because we have to many people who give to us,” Hanson said. “Christmas is a wonderful time for most people, but if you don’t, you can’t afford toys, you can’t afford food, it’s not a very pleasant time, so we want to make it better.”

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