Industrial Credit Union’s 19th Annual Food Drive Spreads the ‘People Helping People’ Philosophy Across Washington’s Whatcom County

For Terri Salstrom, Kim Sutton, and the employees of Industrial Credit Union in Bellingham, the spirit of community involvement is very much alive, and the “Feed the Need” food drive they created 19 years ago is still bringing neighbors together to help families who are hungry.

Children from Roosevelt Elementary School in Bellingham gather at a local Haggen store after dropping off donated food that they carried in their backpacks from school to the nearby collection site. Teachers at Roosevelt use the exercise as a way to teach the importance of giving back to the community.

In a county where the unemployment rate tops nine percent and 44 percent of the people using community food banks come from working families, it would be awfully easy to become disillusioned and lose faith in the idea of “people helping people.”

But then you watch school district employees and families collect 10,000 pounds of food for their neighbors. You watch children donate as much food as they can carry in their backpacks to a nearby collection station. You watch hundreds of people brave high winds and heavy rain to raise more than $5,000 at a Food Truck Roundup.

And suddenly, your faith in “people helping people” is restored. Because for Terri Salstrom, Kim Sutton, and their team at Industrial Credit Union, the spirit of community involvement is very much alive, and the “Feed the Need” food drive they created 19 years ago is still bringing neighbors together.

“These are the families that use our credit union,” says Sutton, Industrial’s executive vice president and the food drive’s coordinator. “When you see lines at the food bank, well, it hit our hearts pretty hard. Hungry people was something we just couldn’t have.”

Industrial started the food drive as a way to make community service part of its annual International Credit Union Day celebration. (ICU Day has always been held on the third Thursday of October; this year, it’s on Oct. 17.) If it reaches its goal of 300,000 pounds this year, the drive will have collected more than 2 million pounds of food in 19 years.

“I’m very proud,” says Salstrom, Industrial’s president and CEO, “that we’ve been doing this for so long.”

The need, it seems, has never been greater. Since 2007, the Whatcom County Food Bank Network has seen a 48-percent increase in the number of families it serves, according to Mike Cohen, executive director of the Bellingham Food Bank.

“That means that one in six Whatcom County households is regularly visiting a food bank,” he says. “The more food we get in, the more we can give out. That’s certainly our goal here, and it’s the goal of the Feed the Need food drive.”

Despite challenging weather, more than 400 people launched this year’s drive Sept. 28 at a Food Truck Roundup. Nine carts served everything from pizza and waffles to kettle corn and sweet treats, the Whatcom County North Rotary Club sponsored a beer garden with beverages donated by Kulshan Brewing Company, four local bands provided live music, and more than $5,000 was raised to fight hunger.

That’s enough to pay for 35,000 meals, Sutton says. And it’s just the beginning.

The food drive kicks into high gear Oct. 14-18, when cash and non-perishable food donations (peanut butter, tuna fish, and canned fruits are high on the most-wanted list) will be accepted at locations throughout Whatcom County, including all Industrial Credit Union branches.

Those branches are all decorated in a Western motif, Sutton says, in honor of the drive’s “Rounding Up the Cans” theme. In addition to running bake sales and other branch events, Industrial employees will staff collection sites at area Haggen grocery stores from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. every day of the week.

“One of the things I really love is the way local schools get involved,” Sutton says. For example, children at Roosevelt Elementary School in Bellingham collect food in their backpacks and then carry it to a nearby collection site. Teachers at the school then use the exercise as a way to teach the importance of giving back to the community.

Classified staff from the Meridian School District also participate, leading a food drive for employees and families that last year collected 10,000 pounds of food.

 “We have such a generous community,” Cohen says. “We just want to make sure that we can be the biggest help to families who are hungry.”

Thanks to Industrial Credit Union, that help is assured.

For more information about the Feed the Need food drive, go to http://www.communityfooddrive.com/. For more on Industrial Credit Union’s involvement in the drive, call Executive Vice President Kim Sutton at 360.734.2043 or email her at ksutton@industrialcu.org.

 

Questions? Contact Gary Stein: 503.350.2216, gstein@nwcua.org.