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Helping Hands Food Bank responds to government shutdown

January 20, 2019

SEDRO-WOOLLEY — As the partial shutdown of the federal government continues, Skagit County’s largest food bank is preparing to serve an influx of community members whose food stamps are guaranteed only through February.

Those on the nation’s largest food aid program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are expected to receive next month’s benefits on Sunday, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services. It is unclear whether benefits will resume for March.

In response to the uncertainty, Helping Hands Food Bank in Sedro-Woolley has been ordering twice as much food and preparing staff and volunteers for the potential rush, Executive Director Rebecca Larsen said.

Some donors, including former U.S. Secretary of Defense and Big Lake resident Robert Gates, have increased their donations.

Larsen said Gates doubled his contribution after Northwest Harvest — Washington’s leading hunger relief agency — released a statement Wednesday calling for the end of the government shutdown.

Though Larsen said Helping Hands will be ready to help out, she stressed this responsibility should not rest solely on food banks.

“For us to be the fall-back — that’s not fair,” she said.

Helping Hands serves more than 17,000 people a year, with the majority being children. Thousands of working adults, seniors and those with disabilities also utilize the food bank in order to make ends meet.

“We’re here for anybody and everybody,” Larsen said. “We will not live in the world of scarcity.”

To prepare for the coming weeks, Larsen said the food bank has put out a call for additional volunteers and monetary donations. Giving money is more helpful than donating food items, she said, as the food bank can purchase food at 4 cents per pound.

“I’m preparing for the worst-case scenario,” she said. “If that means wiping our shelves out, I pray to God someone steps up to fill them up again.”

Helping Hands also shares food with the county’s smaller food banks, as well as with organizations such as the Oasis Teen Shelter and Family Promise of Skagit Valley.

Larsen said Helping Hands may extend its hours if needed.

The food bank’s regular hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, and 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.