What you need to know about food programs on Lopez

Food. It’s one of our most basic human needs. On Lopez Island, a place valued for its rich farmland, strong community and organic options, much is being done to make sure no one goes hungry. Programs offer support to those in times of transition, who do not have enough food for their families.

By Kelly Donaldson and Becki Maxson

For the Lopez Island Family Resource Center

Food.  It’s one of our most basic human needs.

On Lopez Island, a place valued for its rich farmland, strong community and organic options, much is being done to make sure no one goes hungry.  Programs offer support to those in times of transition, who do not have enough food for their families.

With limited supplies and volunteers, it’s important to be respectful of others and remember there are others less fortunate.

Several programs exist on a federal level to help families and individuals who need assistance buying food.  Basic Food is a government-run food and nutrition program for individuals and families who meet income guidelines.

Basic Food provides eligible households with an electronic benefits card and monthly benefits to buy food at most grocery stores.  Please contact the Lopez Island Family Resource Center at 360-468-4117 to sign up for the Basic Food Program or find out if you qualify.

WIC is a nutrition program that helps pregnant women, new mothers, and young children eat well, learn about nutrition and stay healthy. WIC provides nutrition and health information, health screening, breastfeeding support, and checks for nutritious foods. To find out if you qualify for WIC, call San Juan County Health & Community Services at 378-4474 (the Lopez Office is located below the Fire Station).

Beyond the government food programs, the Lopez community maintains additional resources for those in need.

The Lopez Island Community Food Bank is managed by volunteers through Grace Episcopal Church, is open 24/7, and is also supported by other churches on the island.  The Food Bank accepts donations of any non-perishable foods and personal care items, such as toilet paper, shampoo, etc.   Donated funds are also used to buy food and other items when supply is low.  The Food Bank is re-stocked by volunteers daily and is located on shelves just inside the Grace Church entrance.

Grace Church is also the location of the federal USDA Commodities Distribution program.  On the last Friday of every month, volunteers distribute surplus, non-perishable commodities to families and individuals who qualify.  Find out if you qualify by attending the Commodities Distribution at the end of the month.

For fresh foods, the community has access to Lopez Fresh, run by the Lopez Island Family Resource Center, which is intended to supplement non-perishable items from the food bank.  Lopez Fresh is located next to the Children’s Center.  It is equipped with a refrigerator and produce bins for items such as potatoes, onions, and apples.  Lopez Fresh is stocked daily with donations from LVM and Blossom as well as store-bought items like milk, cheese, yogurt, butter and eggs.  Lopez Fresh depends on donations and volunteers to provide fresh food every week.

Grow-A-Row is a program that encourages farmers and home gardeners to consider growing an “extra row” of crops for homes and families without a garden.  Anyone with a garden is encouraged to donate. Grow-A-Row donations can be dropped off at the Grow-A-Row shed at the school (behind the secondary building by the buses) or at Lopez Fresh.

If you are donating perishable food to Lopez Fresh and/or Grow-A-Row, please include a label with the donation date and the name of the item.  Plastic bags are located at Lopez Fresh.  If you have a question about donating or volunteering, please contact Kelly at the Resource Center (468-4117).  Questions about Grow-A-Row can be directed to Denise Clark at 468-2010.

Four times a year, the Lopez Locavores organize community meals; where everyone is welcome and meal cost is by donation. The Locavores is a non-profit organization that promotes a local, sustainable food economy. Each meal is a chance for Lopezians to come together and learn about local food, what’s in season and how it’s being used in the community.   The production of each meal relies on volunteers for set-up, serving, clean-up, etc.  The Locavores are made up of small and large-scale growers on Lopez Island dedicated to promoting local sustainability and supporting growers, cooks and eaters of local food.  To get involved with the Locavores or find out more, visit their website at lopezlocavores.org.

The Lopez School runs an innovative program called the Lopez Island Farm Education Garden Program to teach children about planting, nurturing and harvesting food in the farm and garden, and how to prepare healthy foods in the kitchen.  Students, faculty and staff members maintain the school garden, fruit orchard, and greenhouses throughout the year and use their harvest  to prepare healthy foods for the cafeteria throughout the school year.  All students enjoy healthy, fresh meals every day.  All students are part of the process of growing, producing and cooking food.

There are many easy opportunities to help our neighbors with food needs. Consider donating perishable foods to Lopez Fresh, non-perishable foods and personal care items to the food bank at Grace Church (there’s a cart for donations at the LVM checkout area), or growing extra in your garden to bring to Lopez Fresh or the Grow-A-Row stand at the school. The LIFRC and food bank use cash donations to purchase food when supply is running low, particularly during the winter months.

Eradicating hunger on Lopez is an ongoing effort, and we’re so fortunate to live in a community with many organizations, churches, businesses, and individuals helping where they can. Things are happening here to make sure that no one is going hungry, and you can be a part of it. Why not choose one way you can help, and make it a regular part of your week?