The Ritzville Adams County Journal - Eastern Adams County's Only Independent Voice Since 1887

By Steve Salins

Ritzville Food Pantry part of the heart and soul of local community


December 20, 2018

Journal photo by Steve Salins

Carol Ewing, in the neon jacket, rallies and directs her group of volunteers ahead of the 2018 Christmas Box Distribution on Dec. 18. About 80 households are aided by the Ritzville Food Pantry each week.

The inconspicuous space appears pinched between a Dollar Store and a closed Title Insurance Company office. Blue-gray paint coats the building and door. One window display contains a large white board listing churches and other agencies with a note: "Thank you to the many individuals and families who give Food, Money and Time." Block letters on the other window proclaims "Food Pantry, Wednesday 9 to 1." The place is easy to pass by without significant notice. Yet the Ritzville Food Pantry is a heart and soul of the generous community to which it serves.

Ritzville's Food Pantry weekly serves approximately 80 households affecting over 200 individuals. On Wednesday this week, the food operation moves to the Legion Hall where specially supplied Christmas boxes containing turkeys and holiday-related foods are available to community members who are registered with the Pantry. Families who are not already registered may also pick up Christmas boxes if they meet government guidelines for using the Food Pantry. That would be income of 185% of the defined poverty level and residence within the service area (Lind, Ritzville, Washtucna, Benge). Carol Ewing, Food Pantry's friendly and relaxed director is quick to say: "If they ask for food, we'll give it to them; no need to ask for proof of address."

Carol is no novice in this work. When asked, she explained that prior to coming to Ritzville she had been part of a pregnancy center in Olympia-initially sorting donations, and later providing parenting education. When she moved to Ritzville in 2010 she was looking for an opportunity for service, so she entered as a volunteer at the Food Pantry. That led to an appointment to the Board. When the Board needed a secretary, she said, "Sure." When the Director retired, they asked her to become the Assistant Director, and she said, "Sure." Less than a year later, the new Director moved across the country, and (you guessed it) she said, " there I am"-moving into a new position. She's been there for four years.

The Food Pantry operates smoothly, though others have preceded Carol Ewing and set an enviable standard. The operation began 15-20 years ago-with the Foursquare Church in town-as a ministry to those who needed food support. It opened in the same building as the Pantry now exists (at the time, the space was operated as a church). Over time, the Pantry became an outreach for the Ministerial Association, as it is today. The ten churches comprising the Ministerial Association each send a representative to serve on Pantry's Board. Each church covers one month of volunteer service to the Pantry; the outlier two months are picked up by one of the churches and others like the Ralston Grange.

The Food Pantry operates under the auspices of the Moses Lake Food Bank, and guidelines come from them. Other towns, Harrington, Sprague and Odessa, also operate Food Banks aligned with Moses Lake. Food products are supplied by Second Harvest, Northwest Harvest and TEFAP ( the federal government's "The Emergency Food Assistance Program").

Weekly food is packed by bag into boxes-amount based on family size. Canned items (which includes soups, tuna, fruits and vegetables), cereals, peanut butter, staples (which includes rice, beans, oatmeal) and frozen foods (vegetables, potato products, and meat-when available) may also be added to a family's box. Once a month, additional food comes from TEFAP; the products vary (dried beans, stews-packets, cans, spaghetti sauce, frozen chicken, frozen strawberry cups, etc.). Apples, oranges and potatoes come from Northwest Harvest, Second Harvest and community donations. Schools, businesses and organizations have food drives that supplement Food Pantry boxes.

Director Ewing is quick to give credit to organizations and individuals who make the Food Pantry operate. When asked, she mentioned Assistant Director Bob Shockley and wife, JoAnn; Linda Key (a faithful support volunteer); Jelina Carlson (the donation sorter-yes, the Pantry receives clothing items, household items, and children's items-books, toys, clothing); Jack and Liz Cross, who open up early and prepare the Pantry for the open days; and Luanne Bryant (computer geek). She also mentioned other 'regulars'-Greg and Nadia Reimer, and Carolyn Gustafson (who also sorts donations). It would be remiss to not identify some of the local organizations who also support the Food Pantry: Big Bend Electric, Ralston Grange, Caring Neighbors, LDS Church and Catholic Charities.

When asked about donations, Carol responded that money and food donations seem to be based on communication-meaning that she needs to get the word out to the community on what the needs are. She acknowledged that she is working on becoming better at communicating the Pantry's shortages and needs. One pathway is through members of the Board (one from each of the 10 regularly participating churches). Another is Facebook; she said that she is attempting to use this path more frequently and with more detail. Interestingly, Carol noted that supplying Food Pantry Needs are not "one-time-we always need canned food because we keep giving it away!"

It's the "giving away" that uncovers the unseen motivation of the Ritzville Food Pantry. Ritzville is most fortunate to have a competent quality food service for those in need of food. A visit to the Pantry office when volunteers are preparing for the next days' opening reveals a tremendous energy, focus, smiles and laughter on the part of volunteers. Jelina Carlson approached this reporter, enthusiastic about the pleasure and rewards of serving the community, which helps define the underlying aim: that the town has recognized a need within the community, and has provided a way to fulfill that need via the Pantry.


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