Saturdays at the Port Townsend Food Bank are reserved for the older generation. The program’s halls at Mountain View commons resound with the roll and clatter of shopping carts, the low hum of …
Saturdays at the Port Townsend Food Bank are reserved for the older generation. The program’s halls at Mountain View commons resound with the roll and clatter of shopping carts, the low hum of conversation, and the occasional joyful shout as friends greet each other.
The food bank supplies groceries to 60 or more low-income senior households each week. Many more seniors are eligible, but pride frequently stops people from accepting donations, says longtime Food Bank manager Shirley Moss.
Senior shoppers – they must be at least 65 – arrive between 11:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. They are here for a week’s worth of groceries, but the visit also can be a fun outing and a chance to socialize.
One recent Saturday, early birds lined up under an outdoor covered overhang and people arrived in cars, on foot, and in Dial-a-Ride vans. All shoppers and volunteers wore masks, complying with food bank rules.
The shoppers soon would depart with bags and boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables, frozen meat and seafood, milk, juices, cheese, deli goods, pantry staples, breads, and pastries. For those needing assistance, volunteers help with shopping and carry grocery bags to the car.
Food bank manager Shirley Moss recently began serving seniors exclusively on Saturdays to separate them from the larger crowd of younger people who shop here on Wednesdays. The idea is to make shopping easier for everyone.
Seniors like a slower pace, Moss says. “I didn’t want to be rushing them. It just felt disrespectful.”
Safety is another consideration. Many of the elders walk unsteadily or use a wheelchair or walker or just need more time to make their decisions. Also, Moss hopes that segregating seniors will help protect them from contagious illnesses.
Already, the change has reduced bottlenecks in the food lines on Wednesdays, when a bigger, busier crowd of around 200 households picks up groceries.
The older shoppers seem to enjoy the slower pace. “It makes a huge difference,” says one veteran food bank user. “We don’t have to fight the young kids to get a space in line.”
Another senior shopper lives alone but is shopping for three, picking up groceries for elderly neighbors without a car. He saves about $50 a week by shopping at the food bank, he estimates.
He and others find a lot of non-food staples here – cleaning products, drug store staples, and even adult diapers. But the food bank doesn’t have every necessity. “With the money I save I can get things they don’t have here,” the man explains.
Moss encourages people who can use the help to accept it. Cash-strapped seniors may not feel the weight of their financial stress until a food donation lightens the load, she says.
“And after they go through the door they say, “Oh, my goodness, there’s so much to offer and everyone’s so nice.”
“If it takes some of the pressure off your shoulders, that’s OK,” she urges worried seniors. “Because of the generosity of this community, there’s plenty of food. You aren’t depriving others.”
Senior shoppers find an impressive variety of meat, seafood, and vegetables here, broadening their diets and supporting their health.
Eight local organic gardens grow fruit and vegetables for the food bank. The agency receives monthly deliveries of food from the USDA and hundreds more pounds of food are given weekly by Jefferson County grocery stores, Sequim Costco, and restaurants. The WAVE food drive supports food banks in Brinnon, Port Townsend, Quilcene, and the Tri-Area. Produce that’s unusable is used by Foggy Farms to feed pigs.
For all that generosity, however, the Port Townsend Food Bank could not feed locals as well as it does without Food Lifeline, a Western Washington nonprofit that supplies bulk groceries to 350 food banks, shelters, and meal programs.
“They give us high-quality food and deliver it for free,” Moss says. “This low-cost supplier keeps food banks in a steady supply of groceries for their shoppers. A huge amount of our best food comes from this program.”
The entire stream of food and essentials allows food bank shoppers to enjoy juices, organic bread and pastries, pet food, deli products, desserts, meat and fish, and pantry staples.
“If they are on a restricted diet, all they have to do is say, ‘I’m low salt,’ or ‘I’m vegan,’ or ‘I’m gluten-free,’ Moss says. When these things appear they are set aside for regulars who’ve requested them.
A woman waiting in line to shop one recent Saturday lauded the new Saturday program for elders.
“Senior day is much easier, and never as crowded,” she said, reading a book as she inched forward with the line. She’d chosen four novels from a nearby shelf of library donations. Shoppers also can take home clothing from New Image, a local nonprofit clothing bank for women.
At first, the woman says, she’d resisted accepting free groceries, believing that someone else might need it more than she does. “I thought, ‘That’s just for poor people. I’m not poor.’”
But she’s not rich, either, and she has found, she says, that getting help is a relief.
Donate to Port Townsend Food Bank by contacting Shirley Moss at 360-531-0275 or email@example.com.
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