PORT ANGELES — Mary Patterson, who has volunteered at the Port Angeles Food Bank for more than 12 years, has never sought recognition for the more than 60 hours she helps out each month.
That’s why she was surprised when she learned she had earned the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award for Human Services.
“I’m just here to help them, not for them to notice me,” Patterson said.
Patterson is the first face clients see when they walk through the doors of the food bank at 402 S. Valley St. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. She also volunteers one Thursday each month and any time she’s needed.
“Mary has a presence about her that when people walk in the front door, they are just calmed,” said food bank Executive Director Jessica Hernandez, who nominated Patterson for the honor.
“It’s hard to come in and ask for help, and I think Mary makes it easier on clients who are facing really hard times.”
Hernandez didn’t tell Patterson she had nominated her until she got word that Patterson had actually won the award.
“Jessica came down and said, ‘Can I talk to you for a minute?’ ” Patterson said. “I thought, ‘Oh, what did I do now?’ ”
Patterson traveled to Olympia on April 11 to accept the award at the governor’s mansion.
She doesn’t like being in the spotlight or being in front of people, but Patterson said the ceremony in Olympia “wasn’t bad at all.”
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Patterson arrives at the food bank at about 10 a.m. to help sort the latest food deliveries and prepare for distribution.
Once distribution starts at 1 p.m., she helps clients as they prepare to go through the line.
She typically stays until about 4 p.m.
She estimated she probably knows 75 percent of the food bank’s clients on a first-name basis.
“They can just walk in the door and I know who they are,” she said. “That’s just how often some of them need to be here.”
Hernandez said Patterson does more than just prepare for distribution and send people through the line; Patterson goes above and beyond to make it a more comfortable place for their clients.
Patterson is often the first person to begin decorating for the holidays, Hernandez said.
“One of the neat things Mary has started with her time here that speaks to making this a comfortable place is … every month, she puts together a [drawing] for the clients,” Hernandez said.
“She spends a lot of time thinking about what’s going in them — something useful or enjoyable for clients.”
Patterson said the reason she has continued to help at the food bank throughout the years is simply because she enjoys helping people and being around the people at the food bank.
“The only thing it costs me is $54 a month for a bus pass,” Patterson said. “I enjoy it, though. It’s better than sitting home and doing nothing.
“I just enjoy helping people.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.