Lending a hand

Army Specialist Alex Ring loads a van Dec. 23 at the Helping Hands Solution Center in Sedro-Woolley.

SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Members of the National Guard will stay at Helping Hands Solution Center through June 30 after the food bank was granted an extension.

The county’s largest food bank has been relying on support from the National Guard since early in the COVID-19 pandemic as it has been confronted with unprecedented demand.

“Without the support of the National Guard we as a community would have seen greater hunger and no solutions to combat it,” Rebecca Larsen, Helping Hands executive director, said in a news release.

Nichole Long, director of marketing and development, said the food bank is helping an average of 5,500 families per week through its 13 food distribution programs. In normal years, about 1,000 families per week seek assistance.

Larsen said in an interview the number has steadily increased as the pandemic has dragged on, and things such as federal stimulus payments have only had a small, brief impact.

Helping Hands served the same number of families in January 2020 as it did in a single week of January 2021, she said.

Members of the National Guard have been on site since April, with about 30 a day helping distribute food. Larsen said their assistance is needed, as many of the food bank’s volunteers are older and have been trying to stay safe during the pandemic.

Without the National Guard’s assistance, the food bank wouldn’t be able to safely meet community need, she said.

“With the vaccine rolling out so slow it doesn’t make sense to bring (our volunteers) back,” Larsen said. “They can’t be put at risk every time they walk in here.”

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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