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As the community gears up for a long-anticipated holiday season, FISH Community Food Bank is working diligently to ensure families in need have the food they need to put on the table.

The annual community Thanksgiving event will happen this year on Wednesday at Teanaway Hall on the Kittitas Valley Events Center, and it will operate in a similar fashion to how it worked last year. Food will be served in a grab and go format due to ongoing concerns about the pandemic.

FISH Director Peggy Morache said the food bank expects a higher turnout than last year’s event, which served approximately 400 people. She said the estimate is in line with the increased pantry client numbers the food bank has been seeing going into the fall.

“We have 238 new clients this year in a 60-day period leading up to November, and it’s still climbing,” she said. “Last year, we had 132 new clients in the same period, showing a 65% overall increase in pantry usage. We are really seeing people coming in for help.”

The pantry began distributing turkeys to clients Friday, with the second distribution occurring on Monday. The number of turkeys being distributed is also a reflection of the increased clientele, increasing from approximately 320 from last year to 400 this year.

Morache said the power of partnerships between local organizations has helped the efforts to put food on the table this holiday season, with a local Rotary food drive bringing in approximately 4,400 pounds of food, most of which will be used for the Thanksgiving event.

“We have a lot of food, and we’re going to make a really nice Thanksgiving for a lot of people in Kittitas County,” she said. “That is exciting to us.”

FOCUS ON SAFETY

Morache said the decision to keep the annual event in a grab and go format for one more year was not one her staff took lightly.

“It was a hard decision because we recognize there are people who rely on this Thanksgiving dinner because they don’t have family in the area,” she said. “Especially with some of our older county residents, they enjoy being in a room where there’s children and intergenerational activity.”

Among the internal debate, Morache said the decision was made to not go back to congregational dinners because of the demographic of the event, with many senior citizens who attend.

“We really have to be mindful of how vulnerable they may be to COVID and some of the variants, so we decided to err on the side of caution,” she said. “Let’s see how next year unfolds, and hopefully next year we’ll be able to have a large community celebration as we have in years past.”

HOW TO HELP

As the team gears up for next week’s event, Morache said there are multiple ways residents can pitch in if they feel inclined. She said there are a plethora of volunteer options for those who have time to donate to the cause.

“There are always volunteer opportunities,” she said. “This community dinner is a huge undertaking, so we can always use extra hands. It’s a very long day next Wednesday, so if people can give an hour or two, that means someone doesn’t have to be there for 12 hours. It helps us spread the work out and keep shifts shorter. If people want to help us, it’s huge.”

In lieu of food donations, Morache said the food bank could use help with offsetting the cost of purchasing the turkeys for this year. Due to food shortages and rising food costs, she said the food bank spent a record amount of money on this year’s event, even with the food donations brought in from Rotary and a generous donation of turkeys from Costco.

“It’s costing us over $4,400 to purchase turkeys this year,” she said. “That’s a lot more than we expected to spend, and it’s a lot more than we have ever spent in the past. Anyone who would like to help offset that cost, it would be greatly appreciated.”

Reporting for the DR since March 2018. Lover of campfires, black labs and good vibes. Proud Humboldt State alum!

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