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Bellingham Food Bank

For most families in Bellingham, their next meal is something that is taken for granted. Unfortunately, for some families their next meal is more of a question—especially after all of life’s other expenses like rent, insurance, medicine, and childcare costs. One Bellingham non-profit is trying to answer that question.

The Bellingham Food Bank has been serving the community since 1972. Since opening their doors at 1824 Ellis St., it has been supplying families in need with healthy food on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. In addition to canned and packaged foods, it offers fruits and vegetables grown locally, refrigerated and frozen foods, food donated by charitable individuals, and products gathered from grocery stores and local businesses. It also gets help from Seattle-based regional hunger-relief partners Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline.

With the holidays over, donations to charities often drop off. But people are hungry no matter the season. “We believe one thing to its core, and it’s that hunger is unacceptable,” says executive director Mike Cohen, who has been working there for 14 years. The operation has a staff of 10 and more than 150 monthly volunteers.

“We do a lot of work to try to fight hunger,” he says. “In doing that work, we try to make it as dignified an experience as possible for our customers. Hopefully that shows up in how they’re treated when they’re at the food bank and in the quality, quantity, and variety of the foods that they have access to when they visit us.”

In August, for instance, the food bank provided help for 19,889 residents in 8,242 households. In all, the organization estimates that it serves about 20 percent of the population of Bellingham. The number of household visits has doubled in the last decade. It receives $2 million in state funding and an additional $5 million to $6 million in monetary and food donations.“

Getting enough nutritious foods is a top priority for lower-income families,” says Greg Winter, executive director of the Opportunity Council, a major social services agency in the region. “Bellingham Food Bank does more than just provide food—they do so in a way that provides high-value food products in a manner that is really responsive to their customers preferences.”

The only thing required to get help from the food bank is a recent piece of mail with a Bellingham address. Clients are allowed to visit twice a week. The food bank has several satellite operations around Bellingham and works with almost a dozen other food banks in Whatcom County including ones in Ferndale, Blaine, and Point Roberts.

“It’s criminal that food banks play such an important role in so many communities because there’s enough wealth to go around,” Cohen says. “It’s just not shared or distributed appropriately. Because of this, our food bank and other food banks out there have tried to be there to help address food insecurity, which is a symptom of poverty.”

Volunteers are a huge component of the food bank, which serves an estimated 20 percent of Bellingham’s population.

1824 Ellis St., Bellingham
360.676.0392 | bellinghamfoodbank.org

For more stories like this, check out our Lifestyle section here.

"But people are hungry no matter the season."