Six years ago, Shari Pace and Candy White gathered fellow Peninsula School District bus drivers and started the “Stuff the Bus” food drive. It was a time when the economy was on the downturn, and the drivers wanted to help their kids and their community.
“The bus drivers see the kids every day,” said Jan Coen, the executive director of the Gig Harbor/Peninsula FISH Food Bank. “So they know what’s going on.”
On Saturday, bus drivers will gather from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Albertson’s in Gig Harbor North to collect food for both the Gig Harbor/Peninsula FISH Food Bank and the Key Peninsula Community Services Food Bank. Shopping carts will be decorated like buses, and food will be stored in a school bus in the parking lot, White stated in a news release.
“It brings in desperately needed food for our community,” said Brett Higgins of the Key Peninsula Community Food Bank.
The event collects non-perishable food and household items such as soaps, cleaners and shampoo. Cash donations also will be accepted.
Pace and White are both drivers in the school district. The event tries to bring about 30 drivers, or half the driving force, Pace said.
“Nobody could do it without the help of all the drivers who support it,” she said.
Pace is a life-long Peninsula School District member. She graduated from Gig Harbor High School and has driven a bus for 19 years.
“I am blessed,” she said. “I love my job.”
Coen said that the shelves of the food bank have always been full, but an increase in clients and a decrease in donations in the past year hits hard.
“Now we have nothing,” she said.
The Gig Harbor/Peninsula FISH Food Bank provides basic meal items such as peanut butter, jam and canned and boxed goods. Between $8,000 to $10,000 a month is used to purchase perishable items such as eggs, meat and milk. Cash donations help offset that operating cost. Soup is a needed item, as well as canned fruits and vegetables, Coen said.
In the past three months, the Key Peninsula Community Services Food Bank has spent about $5,000 on canned food to keep shelves stocked, Higgins said. On average, the food bank sends out 450 family food baskets a month. With the average family size of three people, Higgins said, the baskets feed about 1,350 people.
Food bank workers go to grocery stores about four times a week to collect donations, including produce.
The Gig Harbor/Peninsula FISH Food Bank hopes a covered van will be donated to help with pickups in bad weather this season. Right now, volunteers use open trucks, said Ron Coen, a board member.
The influx of food drives in November and December, like Stuff the Bus, help food banks get through the holidays, Higgins said.
Pace is excited for another year of busing in donations.
“Literally, we stuff the bus,” she said. “It’s amazing. Every seat is full.”Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.