Congresswoman Suzan DelBene spent an hour volunteering at the Sky Valley Food Bank in Monroe recently, passing out food during its Wednesday morning distribution service.

DelBene has been an advocate for food insecurity programs during her time in Congress. Although committee appointments have not been finalized for the 2017 Congress, DelBene has served on the House Agriculture Committee for four years, including work on the nutrition subcommittee. Food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program all fall under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

DelBene, who has volunteered at the Sky Valley Food Bank in the past, said she enjoys volunteering around the holidays.

“The folks here at Sky Valley do an incredible job. You can tell these are folks who’ve been running this food bank for decades. It is an incredibly well run and important part of Monroe and, frankly, not just Monroe; this whole region,” DelBene said. “I’m always excited to come out; Neil does a great job.”

Located on Sky River Parkway near the Monroe Boys & Girls Club, the Sky Valley Food Bank serves low-income families and individuals in the Monroe area and beyond. The food bank is a 501(C)3 nonprofit, governed by a volunteer board of directors and staffed by a team of volunteers.

It serves more than 300 families per week and provides food to the Monroe Cold Weather Shelter, the drop-in center and Kidz Club program at Monroe nonprofit Take the Next Step and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community food bank on Old Owen Road.

The Monroe facility was bustling during DelBene’s visit, as donations poured in from local organizations hosting holiday food and toy drives. It’s a community effort, said Neil Watkins, food bank executive director.  

“We have a good donor base and incredible volunteers,” he said.

The Sky Valley Food Bank partners with local grocery stores and providers, such as Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline, to serve its clients. During the summer, the Julia V. Morris Community Garden provides fresh produce, this year donating a total of 3,821 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to the food bank. The total monetary value of produce grown in the garden this year equaled $10,371.65.

Private donations and food drives make up the rest.

“This year we’re going to do about a million pounds of food distributed out of this building,” Watkins said. “About 150,000 of those pounds we have to purchase because we don’t get enough contributions to cover all that we have to distribute.”

Cash donations to the food bank are optimal because Watkins can stretch those dollars to maximize the amount of food coming in.  

Although the Sky Valley Food Bank primarily serves families living in the Monroe area, it provides food to other communities in the Sky Valley including Index and Skykomish. Gold Bar resident Marci Buckman was using the mobile Sky Valley Food Bank service that visits Index every Monday, until her work schedule changed and she could no longer make the trip.

She now comes on Wednesdays, because it works with her schedule.  

She and her husband moved their family of four to Gold Bar in April, and have found themselves struggling to make ends meet. The mother of two said she is cautious about seeking services, not wanting to take advantage of the system, but is incredibly grateful that the food bank is an option for her family. She and her husband each commute 30-plus miles to work, and the added cost of gas caught them off guard, she said.    

“That’s why I’m glad that there’s something like this around,” Buckman said. “They’re really generous. They try to give you as much as they can — it’s really nice.”

Buckman works for a local grocery store chain and she is hopeful she’ll be able to transfer to a closer location after the new year. Once her family is on more stable footing, she hopes to be able to return the favor by helping at the food bank.

“I’ll probably try to volunteer once I’m ahead,” Buckman said.

Founded in 1976 by Julia V. Morris, the Sky Valley Food Bank celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. For more information about the Sky Valley Food Bank, visit facebook.com/SkyValleyFoodBank.