Even though Gig Harbor’s FISH Food Bank has been a Gig Harbor staple for the past 40 years, their actual operation is comprised of a modest area shared with our local Eagle’s Club. Neither the building nor the food bank’s small sign on Burnham Drive adequately tells the story of what happens once inside the food bank. For the real miracle of the food bank originates in the dedication and boundless generosity of everyone involved.
Founders Ron and Jan Coen, over 200 dedicated volunteers, our local stores, and all of the private donors in our area make the seemingly impossible happen. Their tireless work of the past 40 years demonstrates that compassion can indeed move mountains. But the success of FISH all hinges on the day-to-day human element and a team of volunteers ready to respond to a variety of needs.
One of the newest FISH volunteers, Jan Mallavia, a beautiful woman with soft eyes and an infectious smile, graciously described an experience she had with a client. “A woman came through the clothing section of the food bank looking for a blanket or coat to wear because she was living in her car until she could find permanent housing. It was this past January, and she needed to stay warm. We were able to find her not only a nice blanket and coat, but wool socks and a pillow. She just wanted her basic needs met, but I told her, ‘you need a pillow to rest your head on!’” Such is the mission of the FISH Food Bank and its volunteers — the general giving spirit and attention to even the smallest details that only the human element can bring.
It’s very easy to see that those involved in the FISH Food Bank have taken Jesus’s message to feed his sheep and have put it into practice. “My favorite thing about volunteering for the food bank is witnessing God's love through his people. The FISH Food Bank volunteers truly have a heart and compassion for serving others. They are there to hopefully lift up the spirits of people going through tough times,” recounts Jan Mallavia.
However, none of this could have happened unless volunteers had answered the call to serve our community 40 years ago. They are equally aware of their higher purpose. Ron noted, “Our vision is to make sure that we do all we can to provide for those who are in need and to help individuals and especially families become self supporting. As our community continues to change at an ever-increasing pace, we want to be ahead of the curve in making sure that those in need continue to get the assistance they need. We want to be able to provide that help in a way that is timely and respectful of the individual.”
Nonetheless, the FISH board is cognizant that serving the needs of our community requires laser focus and future planning. In order for the FISH Food Bank to be able to accomplish these goals and more, it has become apparent that they will need a new location. Our community is changing and growing and FISH leadership knows that the food bank needs to be positioned to assist with the shifting needs of our community. Ron noted, “Our existing building has limitations. What we are looking for is essentially a small grocery store with room for shopping, storage, food processing, offices, waiting room, walk in cooler, walk in freezer, space for other social services agencies, and a clothing area. We need the new building because all indications are that development in Gig Harbor North will eventually result in the loss of our current location. We don't know when that will happen, but we need to be ready when that happens. One of the best things that the community or individuals could do would be to donate a piece of suitable property. They could also participate in our capital campaign to provide the funds for the building and associated costs. Helping us identify funding sources would also be most helpful.”
Last, but not least, FISH is so much more than a food bank since they also incorporate programs that account for life’s other necessities. For example, FISH administers programs that offer rent and utilities assistance, college expenses, and textbooks for students. FISH also provides gas cards, clothing, toys, and even birthday cakes and birthday kits. Finally, a dedicated team of volunteers provides transportation for those who might otherwise be unable to complete the types of errands that are often taken for granted.
As the old adage says, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” If you have ever been curious about how you could contribute your time, talents, or financial gifts to FISH Food Bank, now is the time to get involved. If anything, the necessity for FISH’s services is growing and the leadership at FISH is taking the necessary steps to prepare for the future. If you would like to know more about the Gig Harbor FISH Food Bank, you are welcome to take a tour of the current facility. If you are interested in volunteering for this dynamic organization, please drop by the food bank and fill out a volunteer form or call 253.851.6179.