It isn’t exactly the norm to have 250 people on hand to celebrate a 30th birthday.
And then there’s the Emergency Food Network.
The Lakewood-based organization, which supplies food to 67 food banks, meal sites and shelters in Pierce County, honored three decades in the hunger-fighting business on Wednesday morning at its annual Recognition Breakfast. About 250 business leaders, community members and others involved with fulfilling EFN’s mission packed Phillip Hall at the University of Washington Tacoma.
Last year, EFN distributed 13.1 million pounds of food worth $16.5 million on a $2.2 million budget.
“We still need your help,” said EFN Executive Director Helen McGovern. “The magic (the staff) creates continues, but so does the need.”
Throughout the breakfast, EFN staff members honored those who have shown a commitment to the fight against hunger, including corporate and civic partners such as Bank of America, Boeing, Multicare Health System and LeMay Pierce County Refuse.
Development Director Jeff Klein said that when he asked some of their partners why they support EFN, their answers were steadfast:
“Its integrated approach to fighting hunger is inspiring.”
“As a healthcare organization, our focus is on making sure the community is healthy.”
“No one should have to go without food in our country.”
Carrie Little of Little Eorthe Farm and the former manager of Mother Earth Farm was the 2012 recipient of the David P. Ottey Lifetime Achievement Award, named for a former EFN board member.
In 10 years at the Mother Earth Farm, which sits on eight acres in the Orting Valley, Little nurtured the growth of more than 100,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables for Pierce County food programs.
“When you talk about love, there is a woman amongst us named Carrie Little,” said Ottey, who presented her with the award.
When she arrived from Colorado in 1993, Little got her start with a one-plot garden project at the Guadalupe House in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma.
“I use the word genius in the way Carrie operates,” Ottey said. “She may not be the neatest person, but the way she can get things done is amazing.”
In her position, Little sought input from those using the food banks so they could grow things clients would want to cook. She got inmates at the Women’s Correctional Facility in Purdy – and their daughters – involved with gardening projects.
“It wasn’t just about the food,” Ottey said.
Little is now embarking upon the adventure of running a 38-acre farm, also in the Orting Valley, and her son, Canyon, will continue the family tradition as manager of Mother Earth.
In accepting her award, Little said it is really “a celebration of us all lifting each other, planting seeds and having hope.”
She vowed, “I will keep growing, for you.”
The 2012 Silver Spoon Award recipients were Schnitzer Steel, United Natural Foods, Inc., Key Peninsula Lutheran Church’s food bank, Marsh Allen, the Gary E. Milgard Family Foundation, Totem Ocean Trailer Express and American Fast Freight, and Rotary Club of Tacoma #8.
In accepting Schnitzer’s award, Public Affairs Manager Louise Bray said that the company has $250,000 available nationally for community outreach, and pledges $10 per hour of employee volunteer time.
“We want our employees out there in the community as much as we can because the community does so much for us,” she said. “And we want to keep as much of that $250,000 in Pierce County as possible.”
McGovern spoke about “the magic they were making out of nothing” at Key Peninsula Lutheran Church, which started a food bank with just a few people – and a whole lot of need.
“When we suggested we could help them, you would have thought (director Wally Haugaard) was one of the Mega Millions winners,” she said.
Now, the food bank serves thousands of people, 24 hours a day, and McGovern said the 49 volunteers do it with “such dignity and care – and trust. It is just magnificent.”
In urging people to donate to EFN, Haugaard shared a few stories from his food bank: the elderly woman who traveled two miles on her electric scooter to get food for herself and her disabled husband; the cancer patient who couldn’t afford gas to get to her treatments in Seattle and had dropped down to 85 pounds before the food bank gave her a leg up.
“Thank you, angels,” he said to the crowd of donors.
While volunteering in EFN’s repacking area, Marsh, whose involvement with the organization dates back to 2001, created and financed a machine to help package bulk foods to distribute to those in need.
“I found it was very difficult to stand there and shovel the food by the bagful,” he said.
Retiring board members Michael Hansch, John Long and Walter Waisath, Jr. were also honored for their work with EFN.
“All three made tremendous contributions to Emergency Food Network, and will be missed,” said EFN Board Chairman Al Bacon.