Marysville Co-op students give to food bank

MARYSVILLE — Third-grade students from the Marysville Cooperative Education Program got a hands-on perspective on helping out those in need within the community when the Marysville Community Food Bank opened its doors to 24 of the Co-op kids on Dec. 2 to give them a guided tour of their operations.

Alonna Chatburn, a food bank volunteer who used to be a grade school teacher, put her former work experience to good use that morning as she directed the curious children through the same check-in and shopping lines that food bank customers use every Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

“Whoa, this is crazy,” one boy said upon seeing the size of the food bank’s interior.

The third-graders had brought hundreds of plastic bags and pounds of food to donate to the food bank, and Chatburn explained to the students that their plastic bags would allow the food bank to spend money on food rather than bags for their customers.

“We use about three bags of food for each family that we serve, and we serve about 100 families on Tuesday and Friday, so that’s 300 bags each day,” Chatburn said.

Chatburn then asked the children whom they thought could be customers of the food bank, and was pleased when their answers included the homeless and the less-fortunate.

“We stock foods with pull-tops lids because homeless people might not have can openers, since they don’t even have kitchens,” Chatburn said. “We also help take care of people who can’t take care of themselves. Maybe someone has lost their job, or has gotten sick and needed an operation, or is trying to raise a lot of kids on their own.”

Some students were surprised to learn that grandmas and grandpas would need the food bank, but Chatburn explained to them that retired people can find themselves living on fixed incomes that don’t always cover all their expenses. She noted that elderly and disabled clients are encouraged to stop by the food bank on Mondays, when it’s not as busy.

“How many people do you serve?” asked third-grader Luke Dobler.

Chatburn estimated that, between the average of 100 families each Tuesday and Friday, plus about 50 more families every Monday, the food bank easily serves close to 1,000 families a month. She elaborated that the families’ maximum numbers of certain types of foods are determined by how many members each family has. When a few Co-op parents and teachers reacted with surprise at hearing how the food bank serves between 20-25 families with seven or more members each month, Chatburn explained that many smaller families are choosing to move in together for financial reasons, thus becoming larger families in the process.

When asked how many people donate to the food bank, Chatburn estimated that about 100 people wrote checks in November, and using that as her average, figured that close to 1,200 people did so during the year. When she factored in individual cash donations and fundraising events, she figured that between 2,000-3,000 people might donate to the food bank during a given year.

As Chatburn guided the students through the sections for cereals, pastas, canned and fresh fruits and vegetables, and deli and dairy items, she emphasized how the food bank “recycles” by sending its expired bread and old fruits and vegetables to pig farmers. When she opened up the portable blue coolers where chicken, turkey, ham and other meats are kept on the serving line, she added that the area’s first snowfall prevented many customers from picking up their Thanksgiving meals, which meant that the food bank served only 550 families instead of the expected 800.

“Do farmers donate to the food bank?” asked third-grader Rebecca Hammontree.

“Quite a bit,” said Chatburn, who pointed out that the food bank’s “Giving Gardens” program encourages anyone with a plot of land to grow food that they can donate to the food bank. “Before we promoted the Giving Gardens program we received about 2,000 pounds of homegrown fruits and vegetables a year, but afterward that went up to about 9,000 pounds.”

“Why do volunteers hand out the food?” asked fellow third-grader Peyton Wolff.

Chatburn summarized the food bank’s reasons as speed and health, since asking customers which food items they want prompts them to make up their minds faster, and flu epidemics in recent years have inspired food bank volunteers to take over exclusive handling of the food while wearing gloves.

Before the students sorted through their plastic bags to keep only the usable ones and stack them neatly, they eagerly took part in weighing the food items that they’d brought in. Co-op guest teacher Amy Norton helped Chatburn place two shopping carts full of food onto a small scale, one box at a time, while third-grader Kelsey Edge kept count of the mounting weight. Ultimately, the students’ donations added up to 206 pounds of food.

“I learned that the food bank is very helpful for people who don’t have enough,” Dobler said at the end of the students’ visit.

“I think this trip gave the kids a sense of what it means to be part of a community,” Norton said. “It means participating in programs that help support one another.”

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