Judy Smith and Anni Campbell volunteer at Gifts from the Heart Food Bank, which is celebrating its 16th birthday today. Photo provided by Molly Hughes

Judy Smith and Anni Campbell volunteer at Gifts from the Heart Food Bank, which is celebrating its 16th birthday today. Photo provided by Molly Hughes

Gifts from the Heart turns sweet 16

Clients at Gifts at the Heart Food Bank will be in for a rare sweet treat to celebrate the coincidence of two holidays falling on the same day.

Today marks not only Valentine’s Day but also the food bank’s Sweet 16 birthday.

It also happens to be on one of the organization’s distribution days, which only occur on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month.

“I just thought it was funny that we’d be open on Valentine’s Day and it’s our real sweet 16,” said Molly Hughes, president of Gifts from the Heart and Coupeville mayor.

Ken Hofkamp, food bank board member and owner of Prairie Center Red Apple, purchased 100 bags of candy and Hughes placed notes on each one that read,”Gifts from the Heart Food Bank is Sweet 16 today! Happy Birthday to us and Happy Valentine’s Day to You!”

In 16 years, the food bank has gone from serving one person its first distribution day to between 85 and 95 families each time, said Hughes.

The group started in the lobby of “the brown house” on Main Street in Coupeville, went to “literally a closet” in Greenbank, then an unused walk-in refrigerator to their current location at the old Coupeville fire station, she said.

Hughes said as the anniversary approached she started reminiscing about the food bank’s history.

Hughes became involved when she saw an advertisement in the newspaper that a group of volunteers would be distributing food on Valentine’s Day in 2002. She stopped by to help and kept volunteering with the group from that day on, she said. As more people starting coming to receive food, the group was told they had to find another location.

“We became a little disruptive,” said Hughes.

Eventually, the growing operation was allowed to set up shop twice a month at the fire station at the time at 203 N. Main St.

Hughes remembers setting up tables and food behind the fire trucks and having to rush everything out of the way when the fire alarm went off.

When the fire district changed locations, she said the fire chief at the time, Joe Biller, was to credit for allowing the food bank to stay.

“He was really instrumental in getting the fire commissioners to agree to let us rent the old fire station,” she said.

Hughes credited a number people for keeping Gifts from the Heart open, including the approximately 40 consistent volunteers, about 10 of which she said have been with the group its entire 16 years of existence. She also acknowledged the importance of all the donors and organizations that hold large food drives every year as a factor in its success.

“It takes an army to get all this done” she said.

Many local businesses regularly contribute to the food bank’s supply. Different businesses and members of the community have made programs such as Meals 2 Kids, which sends Coupeville Elementary School students who are in need home with food for the weekend, possible, she said.

“We just have such a wonderful community,” Hughes said.

“It’s their consistent food drives and consistent donors that get us through year after year.”

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