Connie Nelson doesn’t have to consult her calendar to tell you that far more community food drives occur during the holiday season that at any other time of the year.
As the director of the Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank, Nelson is thankful for the donations that begin prior to each Thanksgiving and continue through the week of Christmas as residents turn their attention to themes like goodwill and giving. She is also quick to point out that the demand at the food bank doesn’t subside after the decorations are put away.
“Everyone is generous during the holidays,” Nelson said. “But what happens in July and August?”
For one thing, the lines outside the food bank at 10814 E. Broadway do not get any shorter. Demand at the facility has gone up steadily every year since 2007 when around 23,000 clients received bread, produce, dairy products and other items. Last year, the number was closer to 41,000.
“By this time of year, the food that has been given and stored over the holidays is gone,” said SVP Development Director Don Kaufman.
When Rhode Island philanthropist Alan Shawn Feinstein introduced a program known as the “Feinstein Challenge” back in 1998, he was aware of the shortages experienced by food banks throughout the nation. The idea was to generate an increased number of food and cash donations to help nonprofit entities bridge the gap.
Feinstein has dedicated $1 million each year for the past 15 years to a cause that matches the monetary and food contributions in hundreds of communities throughout the U.S. His foundation provides $1 for each donated dollar or pound of food, up to the $1 million annual ceiling.
Since the program began, over 3,000 agencies have participated in the challenge. The match can run from a minimum of $250 to a maximum of $35,000.
Kaufman, who oversees the fundraising branch of SVP and events like the annual golf tournament, says the program brings attention to the efforts of the food bank each year as residents see value added to their own bequests.
“It’s a way of generating awareness, money and food,” Kaufman said. “One of the reasons it’s so popular is that a lot of these agencies don’t have a development department in place to raise money.”
Last year, during the two-month span of the challenge, SVP received nearly 200 donations, far surpassing the typical contributions during other times of the year.
Bulk donations from providers like Second Harvest and Northwest Harvest do not count toward the challenge, only individual proceeds from community groups and individuals. To qualify for the match, donations must be received between March 1 and April 30.
After all the food and funds have been collected, SVP will complete a one-page form in the first week of May and send it off to the Feinstein Foundation.
“Within a couple of months, they write us a check,” Kaufman said.
The challenge is one of several “match” type funding mechanisms in place at SVP. Local utility companies like Vera, Inland Power, Modern Electric and Avista contribute to programs that help low-income residents supplement power bills while both the Sunrise Rotary and Spokane Valley Rotary groups do their part to support less fortunate residents. Meanwhile, Kiwanis has helped with capital projects and area churches, schools and companies pitch in with everything from food drives to golf tournament sponsorships.
“We rely on a broad base of support,” said SVP Executive Director Ken Briggs. “It’s really one of our strengths.”
Kaufman said donations to the agency have been “OK, but not great” at the start of 2012. He did note some interesting trends on the contribution front thus far this year, including a recent week in which 20 percent of benefactors had not previously donated to SVP or had not written a check since 2009.
“We’re getting there, but we’re not where we need to be,” Kaufman said.
Want to find out more?
To learn more about Spokane Valley Partners Food Bank and other SVP programs, call 927-1153 or visit www.svpart.org.