Center Feeds the 5,000 in Spokane

It’s Thursday morning, and the lobby at the Better Living Center (BLC) in Spokane, Wash., is coming alive. Families in need of assistance have come to know the BLC as a refuge of care and compassion. Ruth Sheidler, director, works with her team of volunteers to serve up to 600 families and distribute more than 62,000 pounds of food each month. In theory, the BLC serves the central portion of Spokane, but as other food banks have struggled to stay open, the center has expanded its service area to the entire city. Despite this added challenge, it has never been forced to shut its doors due to food shortage.

Second Harvest, the regional organization overseeing 21 food banks, recently recognized the BLC for its work in the community and service to 5,500 families in 2011. With a continued increase in need, Sheidler estimates the center is serving 30 percent more families in 2012.

So how do you feed so many from a small building with a tiny lobby? On an average day you will find anywhere from 12 to 22 volunteers manning the center. Each volunteer is given a responsibility and is left to carry it out with expertise.

In the large walk-in refrigerator, Gary sorts and washes produce for distribution. Russ manages the federal food program boxes for seniors and pregnant moms, while Mary creates meals from the dry-goods pantry. Finally, Donna loads and delivers a cart to families waiting in the lobby, where Joy greets and registers families.

A basic cart is stocked with fresh produce, dairy and meat items, dry and canned goods, and bread. A family of four receives 80 pounds of food, and on birthdays they even receive a birthday cake or pie. Food comes from various sources including federal programs, local grocers and the BLC community garden.

Sheidler notes that God always provides, even equating their blessings to the story of the loaves and fishes. These miracles are manifested in the provision of food or in simply having just the right size when a family mentions they need clothes. "If somebody comes in and needs something we don't have, within 10 minutes we will receive it," says Sheidler. "There is no way to explain it, except that it's a God thing."

October 01, 2012 / Upper Columbia Conference