PORT TOWNSEND — Roller skates might have helped, but Shirley Moss moved with ease on foot among the cars and vans, talking with drivers about bread and fruit and kibble.
“To be honest, we’re more efficient this way,” Moss said of the Port Townsend Food Bank’s curbside service Wednesday afternoon.
The food pantry, at 1925 Blaine St. in the Mountain View Commons, will open this Saturday for its weekly seniors’ day from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
People 65 and older — “we’re strict about that,” Moss said — are encouraged to drive or walk up to the parking area or curb so a volunteer can come take food orders.
Amidst the COVID-19 emergency, the drive-up routine is both faster and safer, said Moss, manager of the food bank for the past eight years.
A volunteer like everyone else, she went to each car window with clipboard, pen and shopping list. It has typical grocery items plus other boxes to check for individuals’ needs, such as pet food and vegetarian-only. Diapers were also on the list, with specifications for size.
“The wait is a lot less,” Moss said Wednesday as her crew filled boxes with food and household necessities. With the arrival of each new car, workers asked, “Have you been helped yet?”
This past week was the first since Gov. Jay Inslee issued edicts about social distancing and closure of restaurants, bars and recreation centers, and the clientele looked somewhat different at the Port Townsend Food Bank: Open its usual hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., it felt busier than in the past two weeks, Moss said. Traffic had dipped last week “out of fear,” she believes.
Normally the food bank serves 240 families on a single Wednesday; on March 11 that number fell to 175. On seniors’ Saturday last week, the usual 100 customers decreased to 66.
This Wednesday’s numbers weren’t yet available, but “I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen before,” Moss said, “so our numbers feel like they’re back up, not with our regulars but with new people.”
Working at the food bank is “good for the soul,” said Liz Silva, one of the volunteers herding customers away from the front door.
“First line of defense,” Silva joked, while Moss emphasized that keeping customers outside kept service streamlined.
Some 111 workers spend a grand total of 2,000 hours per month here, Moss noted.
“I have a plethora of volunteers,” she said, “and I am so proud of them. They kick butt.”
The food bank partners with the Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP) to use its warehouse just outside Port Townsend, but “we don’t share funds,” Moss said.
For information on how to support the year-round food bank operation, see jeffersoncountyfoodbanks.org.
“A lot of people don’t see themselves using us. But there’s anonymity in the car,” she said, adding she hopes to see more people arriving along Blaine Street this Saturday, next Wednesday and thereafter.
“I want them to use us now. That’s what we’re here for,” she said.
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.