Food bank watches as need triples this year

Navajo Transitional Energy Company workers help King’s Portion volunteers pack food boxes.

To say that there was a need for a community food bank in Douglas would be a gross understatement. At least according to the latest numbers from the King’s Portion, the largest food bank to serve the community.

“It’s been a challenging year to say the least,” King’s Portion founder Sheila Harr said. “We (the King’s Portion) have utilized and exhausted (our) resources, time and energy into serving our community during this difficult time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The pandemic, which hit the state in mid-March of this year, contributed to the economic downturn that hit Douglas and Converse County hard. Schools closed for the rest of the 2019-20 year, business shut down for almost two months and oil prices plummeted. Combine all of those factors and it’s a recipe for disaster for most families who live paycheck to paycheck.

“We believe the basic necessities of life (food) is crucial to having a healthy community and hunger-free homes,” Harr said. “We have extended ourselves with offering our services to all who have suffered and struggled during this hard time.”

The number of families served by the local food bank illustrated a huge need that the King’s Portion did its best to fulfill.

“We had a 310% increase in families served from 2019 to 2020,” Harr said.

From March to December of 2019, the food bank served 1,161 families – compared to the same time in 2020 when they served 4,349.

Community members and businesses helped the food bank with volunteer hours and cash donations, which was greatly needed, according to Harr.

Just recently, Navajo Transitional Energy Company’s Mine Manager Randy Johnson challenged his employees to donate to Noel’s Giving in Douglas this year. The premise was simple, whatever the workers gave, the company would match.

Employees raised $4,000, which the company matched to donate a total of $8,000 to Noel’s Giving.

“They more than exceeded (my expectations),” Johnson said. “The employees stepped up. I was shocked they donated as much as they did in these times. I was very impressed.”

Johnson guessed well over 200 employees donated.

Because Noel’s Giving is over for the year, Kim Hiser, who started the charity, said NTEC’s donations will probably be used to cover their 2020 grocery bill or saved for next year.

NTEC also donated $3,000 to King’s Portion, with $1,000 coming from Johnson, $1,000 from the CEO and $1,000 from the company. Several employees also volunteered to help King’s Portion pack up boxes of food Dec. 16 for last week’s deliveries.

King’s Portion served about 190 families last week alone. By the end of the month, they will have served 344.

Each family receives about 90 pounds of dry goods, frozen meat, fresh produce and cleaning supplies.

“It is helping provide so much more food for these families. The needs are just atrocious (with) so many people without jobs,” Harr said. “Their (NTEC’s) donation is just truly a blessing that helps families and their cupboards stay full.”

Harr is also amazed at the number of volunteer hours that have been given to the food pantry over the past year.

“We had 432 volunteer hours from March to December 2019,” she said. “That number jumped to 1,548 for 2020. We really and truly could not serve the community without the generosity of everyone who has given.”

Harr has been busy learning everything she can about grant applications with a goal of moving to new property and a bigger building in the future to keep up with the community’s needs.

“In just the past three months we have received $72,686.23 in grants, which will help us achieve our goals,” she said. “We are looking at continuing to serve the community for as long needed.”

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