Rotary First Harvest | Good Cheer Food Bank
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Good Cheer Food Bank Tag

Growing winter crops for the Food Bank

21.06.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, Whidbey Island

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

Good Cheer is fortunate to have many generous gardeners on the south end who regularly donate fresh produce throughout the summer, but fresh produce donations in the winter are less common. Gardening during the winter is challenging, but it can be done! And, it’s a great way to have fresh produce for your table in the winter. This year, Island County is promoting the Grow A Row program to encourage donations of fresh produce to Whidbey Island Food Banks.

If you feel like a challenge, try planting some winter crops! Leeks, parsnips, and brussel sprouts are good choices for this climate, along with kale and cauliflower. Now is the time to plant for fall and winter harvests – check out the Tilth guide for tips and information on planting and extending the harvest season.

Our intrepid garden manager, Stephanie, kept one of the Good Cheer Garden kale beds going last winter, mainly by just letting it do its thing. She also grew some beautiful overwintered cauliflower, and our produce manager Lissa reports that her compost pile was warm enough to grow tiny but tasty new potatoes that she harvested early this spring. I let a few radishes hang around last fall (okay, let’s be honest – I planted them in an old ammo box and forgot about them till the spring) and they surprised me by not only surviving but flourishing; they flowered and then put out radish pods around the beginning of May. If you haven’t tried radish pods, they’re delicious, sort of spicy and just the thing for spring salads.

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Surviving the ‘Snowpocalypse’

14.02.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site, Whidbey Island

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

In a place known for mild winters and an idyllic climate, a real snowstorm can be a treat…at first. Snowball fights! Sledding! Everything shuts down and we all get to stay home and drink cocoa!

Then reality sets in – the roads are icy, propane runs out and can’t be refilled if delivery trucks can’t make the rounds, grocery stores can’t restock if trucks can’t deliver. Often only the main roads get plowed or sanded, public transit stops running, and many people don’t have vehicles that can handle icy road conditions. Even people who do have AWD or 4WD sometimes forget that they still have to compensate for the conditions. Chains or snow tires aren’t always enough, and the best equipped vehicle in the world won’t save you from the poor driving of other people on the road.

It’s easy to tell people they should stock up on supplies when they know a storm is coming, but that’s not always feasible when funds are short. Winter is often a time of ‘heat or eat’ choices for folks with limited incomes, and this is often exacerbated by the sub-freezing temperatures and power outages that come with winter storms. The most recent storm cycle to hit the PNW served to highlight the difficulties faced by vulnerable members of the community; seniors and those facing food insecurity in particular.

With road conditions preventing most of the staff from getting to the Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island, there were several days of snow closures or shortened hours over the first two weeks of February. This affected many people in the community who depend on the food bank; even if Good Cheer was open, if families couldn’t make it due to road conditions they faced the prospect of going hungry.

Fortunately, as the winter storm cycle drug on, quickly wearing out its welcome, the community of South Whidbey banded together. Local Facebook pages served as means to update road conditions and check on neighbors. Offers of help were made daily, along with offers of rides for those stuck or without 4WD vehicles, deliveries of supplies, and warnings about particularly bad areas. Several local good samaritans regularly offered to deliver supplies to folks who were stranded. An inspiring example of community spirit was a post on a local page asking for help in getting food to a family that was snowbound and running low – multiple people responded with offers to deliver food, asking what was needed and where to bring it.

As we face the real evidence of climate change and its effects on not just our environment but our food supply, honest conversations and practical measures to prepare for the ‘new normal’ will be key to adapting. There is still hope for slowing down the effects, but it seems unrealistic to believe that we can avoid the looming drastic changes altogether. But if the latest ‘Snowpocalypse’ taught us anything, it is that we are stronger together.

“My message to you all is of hope, courage and confidence. Let us mobilize all our resources in a systematic and organized way and tackle the grave issues that confront us with grim determination and discipline worthy of a great nation.”  Muhammad Ali Jinnah

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Community Outreach at the Island County Fair

30.08.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

 

One of the hardest but most rewarding parts of serving as a VISTA member is finding new volunteers, especially for someone with no prior experience in community outreach! In a relatively small, rural community like South Whidbey Island, where most news travels by word-of-mouth and networking is done through friends and family, it takes time to build a solid group of regular volunteers.

 

As part of the 2nd year VISTA project at Good Cheer Food Bank & Thrift Stores, VISTA members Brandi and Izzy set up an information table at the Island County Fair in Langley, held at the end of July. Because information booths can easily become overlooked background noise to fair-goers, they decided to add an interactive component – tasting samples! Using products made in the Good Cheer kitchen, including fruit leather, herb salt, and kale chips, along with a simple, informative display that included recipes, coloring sheets for the kids, and lots of photos, the two VISTA members got to spend three days talking to visitors and island residents – young and old – about Good Cheer and the Gleaning Program. Many people were familiar with Good Cheer’s thrift stores, an island mainstay, but not as many people knew about the food bank and the fruit tree gleaning program.

 

The fruit leather and kale chips were a huge hit, along with the printed recipes for each that were available for folks to take home. The fair was also a success as a community outreach campaign with more than a dozen new volunteers and tree donors signing up to join the gleaning program. Many local residents also took information about donating to Good Cheer; in-kind donations of fruit and veggies from home gardens, dropped off at the food bank by generous community members, accounts for a large part of the fresh produce offered at the food bank during the growing season.

 

More meaningful than the number of volunteers and donors who signed up were the many conversations with people who stopped to visit the Good Cheer booth. Kids trying fruit leather (like a fruit roll-up without the added sugar), long-time island residents expressing their love for Good Cheer as a part of the South Whidbey community, home gardeners and fruit tree owners who shared experience or knowledge about tree care and pest prevention, island visitors who stopped to chat and share their excitement at visiting Whidbey, all showed the importance of putting community into community outreach. Building connections with the people around us makes us all stronger in the end.

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Springing into action at the Bayview Farmers Market

03.05.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Brandi Blais serves at Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores, an innovative shopping model food bank located in Langley, WA. Supported by a combination of in-kind donations and revenue from its two thrift stores, Good Cheer provides food to 800+ families on South Whidbey Island each month. The gleaning program is an essential part of Good Cheer’s grocery rescue efforts, adding locally sourced fresh produce to the food bank during the harvest season. Brandi’s mission at Good Cheer is to expand and build on the existing gleaning program, creating a sustainable, volunteer-led program that will continue to bring fresh produce to those who need it for years to come.

 

After the teaser of sunshine and warm days last week, the rain came back just in time for the first Farmers Market at Bayview Corner just south of Langley WA, but that didn’t keep anyone away. A local group of marimba players were cheering up shoppers as they browsed through the first offerings from farmers and crafters from around South Whidbey Island.

 

The current crop of garden apprentices – Annie, Tran, and Kathryn (minus Grayson who was visiting family in Denver) – and the new AmeriCorps VISTA member – Brandi Blais – met with Lissa Firor, Produce manager for the Good Cheer Food Bank, to learn the process for gleaning produce from the Bayview Farmers Market. After going over the general procedure for checking in (for Kathryn and Tran, apprentices at the South Whidbey School Garden, who don’t get over to Good Cheer very often) the first step was to grab the cart and a few sturdy plastic totes.

 

Checking in and grabbing the cart from the Good Cheer Garden shed

 

Next, the crew headed over to the market, about a 5-minute walk through the Good Cheer garden and past the historic Bayview building. Aiming to arrive just before the market closed, so that farmers and shoppers wouldn’t feel crowded by the gleaners, the crew made their way through the market, with Lissa providing introductions to the some of the farm partners as they wound down from a fun and successful first market of the season.

 

Heading through the garden and off to market

 

Good Cheer has many long-term partners in the local farming community, and the warm relationship is evident in the welcoming smiles and cheerful hellos from folks like Bill from Bur Oak Acres and Arwen from Skyroot Farm. Annie and Nathan from Deep Harvest and Foxtail donated kohlrabi, kale, and radishes, along with a few early season herbs. Other gleanings included bok choy, salad mix, and collards.

 

Stopping by Deep Harvest’s farm stand to visit Annie

 

As the cart and crew made their way through the market, a few generous farmers stepped out from behind their tables to drop kale, herbs, or (what else did we get) into the cart.

After a quick stop at Lesedi Farm and African Food for samosas and a detour past the tiny free library, the gleaners made the short walk back to Good Cheer to weigh in and record the day’s catch. In the end, 24 pounds of produce was collected. Donations are tracked, bins labeled, and produce stored in the walk-in cooler for repacking and distribution on the Monday morning following the Saturday market. Produce from the farmer’s market has its own special spot in the cooler, and the entire cooler is organized in a way that keeps things circulating, making sure that customers get the freshest possible produce.

 

Not a bad haul for the first market of the year!

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AmeriCorps Week With Good Cheer Food Bank

15.03.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Rotary, Washington Site

This week (March March 11 – 17, 2018)  is AmeriCorps week. It’s also Good Cheer Food Banks Harvest Against Hunger’s VISTA’s second year serving in AmeriCorps.

Kelly’s first term was a year spent volunteering with American Youthworks; an Austin non-profit that builds out tiny homes at Community First, an initiative to house the homeless. They also work on home repairs through the city of Austin to fight gentrification!


This past year she joined AmeriCorps VISTA to leverage program management skills and dive deep into the food waste problem and inequities in our society that are at the root causes of hunger. Through this year at Good Cheer Food Bank she has been working as the gleaning program coordinator under a sponsorship through Harvest Against Hunger, a Rotary First created program, that places AmeriCorps members across the nation to connect local growers, and missing connections to their local food banks to see less food wasted nationally and get fresh, local produce to those experiencing food insecurities.

If you ever have questions about Kelly’s AmeriCorps experiences and are thinking of joining AmeriCorps, or just want to learn more contact Good Cheer Food Bank.  In 2018 alone, there are 75,000 members serving across America!

 
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Whidbey Island Community Collaboration

23.02.2018 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Harvest Against Hunger, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Kelly Pinkley serves at Good Cheer Food Bank a nonprofit located on Whidbey Island. This nonprofit is really innovative in that it gets it’s funding from a variety of different things but mostly sustains on the funds they get from their thrift stores making a profit off clothing, housewares, and furniture that their community members donate to them. This sustainable funding has allowed for them to become quite the model food bank, hosting their own garden, apprenticeships, and gleaning programs. The gleaning program along side the garden efforts brings in nearly 30,000+ pounds of fresh produce into Good Cheer. As the first of a set of three sponsored HAH VISTA’s to be placed at Good Cheer; Kelly’s year as their Gleaning Program Coordinator has consisted of a lot of capacity building, community collaborations, new partnerships, educational awareness, and program marketing. 

Langley, WA is a really tight-knit community that is always looking for creative ways to bring everyone together, especially when it’s for a good cause. Good Cheer Food Bank has been a big part of the community for over 50 years starting out as a volunteer group providing “good cheer” to families that couldn’t afford to do so around the holiday season. It has since grown into a thrift store which then allowed them to afford the funds to provide a local Food Bank, Good Cheer Food Bank.

The HAH VISTA collaborated with different community partners to throw an event that raised up to 300 dollars for the food bank and had some 20 plus people in attendance which is pretty successful for a first-time event. Because Good Cheer has their thrift stores, the volunteers in the distribution center that sort the clothes out and price them set aside clothing they thought qualified as wacky, vintage, or just plain cool for 2 months prior to the event. This allowed for 3 racks of clothing available to choose from at the fundraiser.

The event was called Dress and Date. Community members were encouraged to bring a friend to dress up for the cost of 25.00 per couple which provided a fun new outfit for each to go home in. With the generous partnerships made in Langley: Prima Bistro & Saltwater Fish House & Oyster Bar offered 30% off dinner for the participants, Flying Bear Farm a local florist offered 25% off wearable flowers, and the local Arcade offered a percentage off Virtual Reality games and stayed open late. A lot of the participants were very excited for such a creative event that was for a good cause and fun was had by all.

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Whidbey Repurposes Apples

14.12.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning

Harvest Against Hunger has partnered with Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island to expand and support Good Cheer Gleaners, their gleaning and produce recovery program. First year VISTA Kelly Pinkley breaks down how unwanted apples can be used to make something delicious and nutritious.

 

Ever wonder what happens to the poor quality apples from gleans?

Here’s some photos from start to finish.

 

Good Cheer Food Bank has a commercial kitchen on site at their facility and our Harvest VISTA was excited to learn of the different processing projects that take place at Good Cheer. VISTA Kelly Pinkley helped to train volunteers on processing the apple seconds that are too poor quality to go straight out to the shoppers, into a value added product, apple sauce! This not only provides a healthy option of processed fresh, local produce but keeps produce from entering the waste stream, the core and peels of these apples were later thrown into the Garden worm bin to become compost.

Volunteer Paula Good hard at work peeling and coring the apples for the apple sauce!

Produce Manager Lissa Firor happily transferring the milled applesauce into cups to go out to the Good Cheer shoppers.

Finished product!

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HAH VISTA Promotes Healthy Food to Whidbey Kids

12.07.2017 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Farmer's Market, Gleaning, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger has partnered with Good Cheer Food Bank on Whidbey Island to expand and support Good Cheer Gleaners, their gleaning and produce recovery program.

HAH VISTA Kelly Pinkley started her AmeriCorps term at the end of April, and she recently tabled at the Bayview Farmer’s Market, themed the “Kid’s Market.” As a volunteer recruitment strategy, Kelly used her graphic design abilities to create patches earned by volunteers as they pass milestones participating in the gleaning program.  This patch system will be a fun way for families, children, and Millennials to get involved in volunteering at gleans. There are three patches community members can earn, one for their “first glean”, the “Tree ID”, and if they participate in 3 or more gleans a “Glean Whidbey” patch. The Tree ID patch is also a good way to market the program on social media because participants are encouraged to take pictures and share them on whatever forum they want, to post to Good Cheer.

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