In the heart of Whidbey

Coupeville Elementary School fifth-graders, from the left, Megan Monroe, Erin Engle and Jeff Boyer, organize some of the many food donations the school gathered for Gifts from the Heart food bank. Vivian Rusinko, center, thanked the students for their effort. - Christine Smith
Coupeville Elementary School fifth-graders, from the left, Megan Monroe, Erin Engle and Jeff Boyer, organize some of the many food donations the school gathered for Gifts from the Heart food bank. Vivian Rusinko, center, thanked the students for their effort.
— image credit: Christine Smith

Gifts from the Heart, the new Central Whidbey Food Bank, is getting some help in gathering donations for the needy.

In the first month, February, Coupeville Elementary School took on the task of collecting food donations for the food bank. Children and families collected more than 2,000 non-perishable food items, said Vivian Rusinko, acting president of Gifts from the Heart.

Each month a different volunteer organization hosts the food drive, and this month’s host is the Boy Scouts of America, Troops 58 and 53. The scouts, along with Boy Scouts throughout the United States, will have their annual Scouting for Food during March.

Coupeville’s Troop 58 will be going door to door on Saturday, March 16, from Rolling Hills south to Admirals Cove. Troop 53, of Greenbank, will be collecting donations from Admirals Cove down to South Whidbey on Saturday, March 30.

Whidbey General Hospital employees will run the food drive during April.

Gifts from the Heart would not be able to gather so many donations without the help of outside groups, Rusinko said.

“The reason it helps is because it’s an entirely voluntary organization and entirely community-based. All individuals are needed for its success,” Rusinko said on Thursday.

While a Central Whidbey food bank is not new, Gifts from the Heart formed this year to replace the gap left when the old food bank, run by churches, had to close its doors. While help organizations in Oak Harbor were ready and eager to help Central Whidbey families and seniors in need, many found it difficult to get to Oak Harbor to visit a food bank, Rusinko said.

Rusinko and others with the Readiness To Learn Community Team, a program funded by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to help keep needy children’s lives in order so they come to school ready to learn, put together the new food bank.

Rusinko and the others recognized a real need for a food bank in Central Whidbey. Several hundred families and seniors in the area could use the support of the food bank, she said. This is backed up by statistics.

“In the Coupeville School District, there are about 230 families that are on free and reduced price lunch,” Rusinko said. This means those families are somewhere around or below the poverty level. Central Whidbey, she said, also has a significant amount of seniors who receive only monthly Social Security checks to support themselves.

Gifts from the Heart makes it as easy as possible for those in need to pick up a supply of food.

“They just need to come in on one of our distribution days,” Rusinko said. A minimal amount of questions are asked of the recipients.

After the donations are gathered, food bank volunteers store the goods at Greenbank Farm.

“The Greenbank Farm does our storage for us,” Rusinko said. “They donate the space. They’ve been wonderful.”

The group had expected it to take a year for the Gifts from the Heart food bank to get off the ground and run independently, but the community made it possible in only three months, from inception to operation.

“We’ve received a ton of community support,” Rusinko said.

How to get help

Distribution days at Gifts from the Heart are on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. This month, those dates are March 13 and 27. Volunteers will distribute food at two Central Whidbey locations:

l Service Alternative (the brown house) at 206 N. Main St. in Coupeville, from 2-6 p.m.

l Progressive Hall, corner of Bakken and Firehouse roads, off Highway 525 in Greenbank, from 2-6 p.m.

Volunteers will ask for the recipients’ names, area codes, age groups in the family and if anyone has special dietary needs.

How to offer help

Gifts from the Heart accepts donations of non-perishable food, gathered by hosting organizations and from bins at Coupeville schools, Prairie Center store, Greenbank Store and churches. Monetary donations, which are used to purchase bulk foods, can be made to Gifts from the Heart, P.O. Box 155, Coupeville WA 98239.

The food bank needs storage space in Coupeville to store food. Call Vivian Rusinko at 678-4551, ext. 236.

Gifts from the Heart also needs the following non-perishable food donations this month: tomato products, low- or no-sodium canned goods, cereals, sugar-free products, peanut butter, vegetable or fruit juices, pasta sauce, vegetable broth, spices, herbs.

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