The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Carolyn Henderson
The Times 

Vital Volunteers and Generous Donors


Carolyn Henderson

Volunteers busy at work at the Dayton Community Food Bank.

Special to The Times by Carolyn Henderson

It takes a special kind of person to volunteer at the Dayton Community Food Bank.

But not so uncommonly unreal that everyday humans need not apply. Indeed, regular, compassionate, intelligent human beings are what keep the food bank, which has been in operation for more than 30 years, successfully reaching out to some 550 Columbia county residents -- 160 households -- every Tuesday.

"What are the requirements to be a volunteer?" muses food bank coordinator Laura Thorn. "Being professional and having commonsense are very important, as well as being physically able to meet the demands of a variety of situations -- there is no heat inside the building where we work, so it can be quite cold. There is also a need for strong backs -- we're looking for people who can lift between 20 and 50 pounds or more."

One of those heavy-lifting people is Dayton resident Clarence Bartlett, who read about the organization in the paper seven years ago and decided to give it a try. Every week, he drives to Walla Walla and loads up 1000 pounds-plus of fresh and frozen perishables -- provided through cooperation with Blue Mountain Action Council -- drives it back, and unloads it in time for the two-hour Tuesday distribution window.

"Clarence is extremely dependable, and we love working with him," Thorn says. "He shows up, every week, right on time, just like clockwork."

Dependable. There for the long haul. Steadfast and constant.

Also fulfilling these requirements is Aleta Shockley, president of the food bank board of directors, and volunteer of such long-standing that she can't remember when she first began.

"I started out when the food bank was in the basement of the Dayton Hospital," Shockley remembers. "They were independent and very small, but they grew as they built connections with other community service, ministerial, and city organizations." From the hospital the food bank moved onto Main Street where the Washington State University Extension Office presently resides, then off to the fairgrounds where they spent a memorable number of years contending with the climate.

"It . . . was COLD!" volunteer Ruth Janes recalls. She was remembering the winter of 2008: despite five space heaters, the ink in the pens froze, as did some of the food.

The next move, to the old fire station space on First Street, adjacent to City Hall, is still a bit cool in the winter, warm in the summer, but this does not daunt volunteers who unload boxes, organize food items, transport food to cars using a couple rundown grocery carts that see regular and innovative repairs, and serve community clients. Janes, whose first experience at the food bank was that brutal winter, considers her present job to be one of the most satisfying of all:

"I give out the fun items to clients, things that they may not expect, like the chips, cookies, candy and such. These are the extra things that come in that aren't necessarily necessities, but they make a difference."

Making a difference is what it is all about, observes Shockley, who in addition to being there on Tuesday distribution days and serving as the president of the board, writes grants and works tirelessly with other organizations in the community to secure funds and contributions. Relatively new to the mix is the Grocery Rescue Program, spearheaded by Second Harvest Hunger Relief Network, which serves Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. The non-profit organization arranges pick-up of unmarketable but usable food -- fresh produce, dairy products, and deli meats -- from participating grocers, that it then delivers to a network of food banks.

It takes a lot of people, a lot of organization, and a lot of human kindness to run a successful food bank, and all of the volunteers agree on one thing:

Dayton is filled with generous, warm-hearted, giving people.

"People of the county are so good to donate to the food bank," Janes says. "So many businesses, banks, churches, schools, scouts, and others sponsor food drives, not to mention all the individuals that donate EACH MONTH in consistent financial support."

Shockley agrees, citing the efforts of local churches, school, civic groups, health care professionals, businesses, and the senior center in meeting needs. Several organizations, she adds, focus on working with the children of the area.

"Vacation Bible School kids during the summer have giving and service as part of their curriculum. Adults pile the kids into a wagon and they all come down to the food bank with their canned goods and financial gifts. They get a tour and they can ask questions and learn more.

"They are the future down the road who will be volunteering and giving."


Wenaha Gallery conducts its annual Canned Food Drive, supporting the Dayton Community Food Bank, from now through January 31, 2017. For every canned or non-perishable food or personal care item donated, the gallery offers $2 off custom framing, up to 20% off the total order.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at

To learn more about the Dayton Community Food Bank, or to provide financial support, contact Laura Thorn at 509.382.2322 or Aleta Shockley at 509.382.2137.


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