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Oak Harbor schools flood Help House with food donations

Petty Officer 1st Class Roxanne Martinez of VQ-1 hands off a box of food to a young assistant as part of the “Fill the Bus” donation drive held by the Oak Harbor School District. More than 17,000 items were donated to North Whidbey Help House. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Petty Officer 1st Class Roxanne Martinez of VQ-1 hands off a box of food to a young assistant as part of the “Fill the Bus” donation drive held by the Oak Harbor School District. More than 17,000 items were donated to North Whidbey Help House.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Jean Wieman could hardly believe her eyes when she saw a bright yellow school bus approach bulging inside with boxes of food.

“I kept going, ‘Is that stacked with food? That’s a lot of food,” she said.

When she was told it was only the first of two buses stuffed with food, her jaw dropped.

Wieman, executive director of the North Whidbey Help House, said the timing of the Oak Harbor School District’s annual “Fill the Bus” campaign couldn’t have been better.

She knew of the campaign and expected a significant quantity, but two school buses stacked nearly full and containing 17,747 food items went beyond any rational estimate.

Wieman said that the food bank that serves North Whidbey to Greenbank was running shockingly low on supplies.

The massive donations on Tuesday filled the food bank’s garage with canned and dry goods and allowed Wieman to breathe a little easier.

At least until next week.

“It’s incredible the quantity of food that is going in and out of here,” Wieman said.

Wieman said donations to the Oak Harbor food bank are feeding close to 600 families, or about 1,600 people, every month.

When food runs low, she dips into the reserve of cash donations to purchase food.

She said she spent $64,000 on food through October and expects to spend about $100,000 this year.

She said that is equivalent to last year, which she called “the busiest year we’ve ever had.”

Currently, families are turning in requests for holiday food baskets for the Christmas season.

Some of the food donated Tuesday was going to help fill requests for Thanksgiving along with general needs.

“People are hungry 365 days a year,” Wieman said.

“This couldn’t have come at a better time. I was trying to figure out what I was going to buy to get through month of December. This is huge.”

To be eligible to receive help from the North Whidbey Help House, one must show proof of residency from Oak Harbor to Greenbank and picture identification for anyone 18 or older in the household.

The idea to help on a larger scale and getting the Oak Harbor schools involved came from Larry Falcon, a physical education teacher at Oak Harbor Middle School and Francis Bagarella, the school district’s director of transportation.

This was the fifth year of the “Fill the Bus” campaign. The middle schools and some elementary schools turned the campaign into a competition.

At Hillcrest Elementary, fifth graders kept tabs of donations as part of a math lesson.

Hillcrest principal Paula Seaman said her students collected 3,780 food items, which was close to that gathered at Broad View, but joked that her school’s items were much heavier.

“I did my principal internship at Broad View,” Seaman said with a smile. “It’s all about competition.”

Leadership students, teachers, bus drivers and even Oak Harbor schools superintendent Lance Gibbon aided in unloading boxes of food at the North Whidbey Help House.

First class Roxanne Martinez led a Navy crew from VQ-1 to assist the school district’s cause.

“Most of us have kids in the Oak Harbor School District,” Martinez said. “Not only does this help the North Whidbey Help House, this strenghens our partnership with the Oak Harbor School District.”

Gibbon said that he noticed that the food bank’s warehouse seemed nearly empty and was glad the school district could help the community cause.

“I’m very proud of our students, and our staff and all the work that goes into doing this,” Gibbon said. “It certainly helps reinforce to our kids what it is to be part of the community and give back.”

“It’s going to help a lot of people,” said Paul Southerland, an eighth grader at North Whidbey Middle School. “Giving back to the community is really nice.”

 

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