Story and Photos by Phil Eggman, USDA Rural Development, Washington State Office
Donating a little bit of time can go a long way to making a big difference for people. Just ask the employees of USDA Rural Development in Washington State who, on July 13, donated two hours of their time at the end of a hectic day to make food packages for the elderly, young mothers, infants and children at the Thurston County Food Bank located in downtown Olympia.
According to Thurston County Food Bank Executive Director Robert Coit, it was opportune that the Rural Development team were packaging food for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which is a USDA program that provides nutritious food "packages" designed specifically for the nutritional needs of low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, children up to age six and elderly people 60 and older.
"It's a great program and helps us with our mission to eliminate hunger in Thurston County," Coit said, adding that the food bank serves 10,000 families annually, including 37,000 individuals, half of which are children, around the communities of Lacy, Olympia and Tumwater.
"This was a great opportunity for us to help out in our local community," said Mario Villanueva, Washington State Director, USDA Rural Development. "Too many Americans live in food deserts and lack access to healthy food. USDA is a key partner in providing access to healthy food by administering the nation's nutrition programs, funding projects that provide underserved areas with greater access to fresh produce"
"It was great!," said Becki Southworth, Multi-Family Housing Loan Specialist. "I really feel like we were able to help our local community by not only what we do every day through housing, business and community programs, but by taking it up a level and getting out in the community, we were able to help meet another need, provide food to those that need it most. I am so glad I was able to go and I would love to do it again."
"I had fun and it felt great to know that we helped 210 families in just an hour and a half of work of great teamwork," said Housing Specialist Leslie Schmidt. "It just shows how much you can help the community with just a little bit of our time."
In addition to helping out at the local food bank (an exercise the agency plans to repeat on a regular basis), Rural Development is participating in a summer food drive as part of the 2nd Annual "Feds, Farmers, and Friends Feed Families" (F5) initiative. The Washington State food drive kicked off July 6 in Olympia and other area offices and will run through July 31.
The food drive makes a big difference. Last summer, federal employees around the country donated more than 1 million pounds of nonperishable goods and daily essentials for those in need.
The new goal for 2010 across the Federal government is 1.2 million pounds of non-perishable items.
"We know the need is great in our area and this was a chance for our agency and federal partners to contribute to a worthwhile cause," said Gayle Hoskison, Olympia Area Director. "And, I agree with our staff - it was a great team effort and felt really good to help out at the food bank. We added another 'F' to the 'F5' effort - the 6th 'F' stands for Fun!"