Much more than 35 years ago, a young woman named Jeanie Ovenell saw a need in the community and began handing out food from the trunk of her car. Ovenell continued the extraordinary community service in the 1970s, and by 1984 helped form the Stanwood Camano Food Bank.
“Her community spirit and gift of caring for those in need lives on today,” wrote Wendy Foster, Food Bank outreach specialist, in a news release.
No one seems to remember the exact year Ovenell began her mission to help others, so July 13, 1984, has been deemed the official start, making this year the 35th anniversary.
In honor of that, the food bank and its thrift store fundraising arm have organized Founder’s Day to celebrate its humble beginnings in Ovenell’s compassion and leadership. Activities on July 13 will include a 50% off sale on everything in the Stanwood Camano Thrift Store.
“We like to remember where the food bank came from and where it will go in the future,” Foster said. “Thank you to Jeanie for having the tenacity, drive and vision to create a model that welcomes, honors and respects all who walk through our doors.”
In its early stages (the late 1970s), Foster said the food bank was located in the old Lincoln School building and operated in cooperation with the Snohomish County Community Council.
After the food bank became a nonprofit in 1984, thrift store revenues and donations from the community were the sole sources of income.
“After several moves and an exhaustive search,” Foster said the Bryant Hardware building was purchased in July 2003. Both the food bank and thrift store moved there in 2004 and are still there today. The building’s mortgage was paid off by February 2011, she said.
“Jeanie Ovenell was a visionary trailblazer with a clear sense of purpose and passion. She knew everyone in the Stanwood Camano area, and she was highly respected by community leaders and business owners,” Foster said. “When she needed money to get something done, all she had to do was make a few calls. Jeanie was a force to be reckoned with – strong, decisive, nurturing, compassionate, a bold leader who spoke her truth, confident and loved by all.”
The community in February 1986 chose Ovenell as Woman of the Year for 1985, permanently recognizing her as a community leader. At nearly 80 years old, she died in June 2012. Soon after the Jeanie Ovenell Community Spirit Award was created, and is presented annually, to other extraordinary residents who exemplify her decades of action and service.
“Jeanie had a keen sense of humor that was balanced by her no-nonsense approach to serve her community and run a business. She was fiercely loyal and dedicated to her family, friends and anyone who needed a little extra help during difficult times,” Foster said.
“When volunteers are asked what they remember about her, they fondly say: ‘Jeanie loved and treasured every client and family that came through the doors at the food bank. Her passion was jewelry and she loved to go through and price the pieces that were donated to the thrift store.’”
Although the food bank and thrift store have changed over the years, Foster said the overall operation has maintained its original mission to feed the hungry.