PORT TOWNSEND — When Shirley Moss goes to Aldrich’s Grocery Store on Wednesday mornings, she always receives a warm welcome from owner Rene Fukuda.
Even though she leaves without paying.
Moss is a jewelry designer by trade; the assistant manager of the Port Townsend Food Bank by calling.
Five days a week, she gets into her van and drives a circuit of local stores, picking up boxes of items for the food bank that would otherwise go to waste.
In the process, she sees a side of Port Townsend that most people don’t see.
“I see the back room of every place,” she said. “I see the heart of the place.”
While the total amount is impressive — upward of 500 tons of produce, bread, dairy and meat donated — it’s the spirit in which it is given that amazes her.
“The attitude toward giving to the food bank is fantastic,” Moss said.
“People are so glad we can make use of things that would go to waste.”
One of four food banks in the Jefferson County Food Bank Association, the Port Townsend bank serves 236 family units a week, a unit being one to nine people, Moss said.
Food from outside sources — the federal Agriculture Department commodities program, Northwest Harvest and Food Life Line — arrive by truck once a month, but the rest is collected by volunteers who go around to the stores every day.
“The Co-op gives us a lot of dairy, and gave us organic turkeys,” Moss said.
“QFC will freeze chicken for us and have a big pickup on Friday.”
Batches of cheese
But the totals don’t tell the whole story.
Mt. Townsend Creamery donates whole batches of cheese when they don’t meet the cheesemakers’ exacting standards for taste.
“When they do it, it’s an abundance,” Moss said. “They are incredibly generous when they can be.”
Having high-quality gourmet cheese to give out is like Christmas, Moss said — an extra treat for the people who line up outside the door on frosty Wednesday mornings.
Dairy is the one thing that is always in short supply, she said.
On more than one occasion, volunteers were reduced to offering bottles of diet soda under the category “dairy.”
Donations of meat are also on the lean side, she said, but that’s where the government comes in.
Although deliveries have been cut from twice to once a month, a truck delivers USDA commodities to the collection and storage hub in Glen Cove managed by Olympic Community Action Programs.
“We’ll get boxes of frozen entrees, like sliced turkey with gravy,” Moss said.
“Sometimes there is canned milk.”
The truck also brings donations from Northwest Harvest and food from Food Life Line, which distributes everything from eggnog to dried eggplant, depending on what’s available.
To augment meat, Safeway has twice sponsored a “buy one/give one” drive on $5 Fridays, asking customers to chip in an extra $5 and buy two of the specials and give one to the food bank.
The result: 170 frozen turkey breasts at Thanksgiving.
Two weeks ago, the $5 buy one/give one item was canned ham, which is easier for the food bank to store than frozen products.
“Port Townsend serves the most people of the [county’s] four food banks, but has the smallest amount of refrigerator and freezer space,” Moss said.
The Port Townsend Farmers Market is also generous — last season, manager Wendie Dyson would call and have a huge pile of organic produce for her to pick up at the end of market days, Moss said.
Dyson also encouraged growers to plant a row for the food bank, Moss said.
Last fall, Seth Roland organized a network of gleaners who brought in hundreds of pounds of fruit that would have rotted on the trees.
Then a volunteer from either Port Townsend and the Tri-Area food banks collects unsold food at grocery stores seven days a week also reduces waste, and saves the stores money — they get a tax credit for the donation, and don’t have to pay to transport the food and dump it.
“The food bank is a regular recycler of food,” Moss said.
“We use food that would go to waste and put it out to the community.”
For food bank clients who are pet owners, Pet Townsend and Bonita’s Four Legged Friends regularly contribute sacks of pet food that have been returned, opened or for some reason can’t be sold.
Once, a parrot pecked holes in a sack, rendering it off-sale, owner Bonita Flagg told Moss.
Another source of kibble: the Jefferson County Animal Shelter, which shares surplus bulk dog and cat food.
“By helping us provide pet food for low-income people with pets, it keeps those pets out of the shelter,” Moss said.
Church groups also bring in large amounts of food and toiletries, Moss said.
Cash donations from the public helped keep the shelves stocked during the holidays, she said, and the Yes We Can-Can Inaugural Party at the fairgrounds raised almost $5,000 in donations.
“I am so grateful to this whole community for all that they do,” Moss said.
“This is a very generous community, a very kind community. You’d think people have heard it so often that they would lend a deaf ear, but they don’t. They come forward.”
With the exception of a paid employee who works at the collection hub, all the food bank workers are volunteers.
When gas prices skyrocketed, they were given the option of applying for mileage expenses, which added up for people driving from Brinnon and Quilcene to the storage hub pick up food.
But most volunteers in Port Townsend, including Moss, don’t bother.
“I put about 200 miles a month on my van, picking up food,” she said.
“It’s a lot of back and forth.”
The return, for her: store owners like Rene Fukuda, who greet her with a smile when she walks in the door.
“Rene is so kind-hearted and generous,” Moss said.
“She really cares about the community. I feel like I’m visiting a friend every time I go in.”
Port Townsend-Jefferson County reporter/columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.
Food bank donations
THE PORT TOWNSEND Food Bank has two drop boxes — one at the Port Townsend QFC and one at the Food Co-op — for nonperishable food items.
The food bank also accept toiletries, including travel samples. Toilet paper and disposable diapers are always needed.
The food bank is open on Wednesdays from noon to 3 p.m. at the Olympic Community Action Programs building, behind Goodwill in the Port Townsend Business Park off Upper Sims Way.
It is also open on the second Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon for a trial period to see if there is enough demand.
For more information, phone 360-531-0275.