The genius of the Thurston County Food Project (TCFP) is its simplicity. Neighbors get better acquainted and hungry people receive food. The time you invest is minimal, yet the results are amazing. February’s single day pick-up netted 8,227 pounds of food and $2,375, which will provide 9,532 meals to our community. Currently, over 37 neighborhoods participate. On the second Saturday of alternating months, bagged, non-perishable items are collected and delivered to the Thurston County Food Bank’s Tumwater warehouse. Each green bag was a contribution from a home.

The Thurston County Food Project is not part of the Thurston County Food Bank. It is its own 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. However, since the group has been in operation for so many years, the food bank relies on its regular donations, which are not connected to a holiday or other food drive.

The Thurston County Food Project has three goals:

  1. Provide a regular supply of food to hungry neighbors.
  2. Create new neighborhood connections and strengthen community.
  3. Serve as a model for other communities.

Be a Neighborhood Food Donor and Fill Your Bag

Your children can help you pick out food donations to fill your reusable green Thurston County Food Project bag. Donations ultimately end up at the the Thurston County Food Bank. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Food Project

When you decide to participate, you’ll get a green bag to fill over the next two months.

TCFP suggests buying an extra nonperishable, healthy food item each time you go to the supermarket. Cost-wise, that spreads it out over time. It’s fine to donate a few things or many. The importance is in participating. It works to fill your bag all at once if you forgot to do it over the 60-day cycle. On the designated Saturday, leave your bag outside your front door. That’s it!

It’s Easy to be a Thurston County Food Project Neighborhood Coordinator

Perhaps you would like to enroll a few of your friends and meet more of your neighbors. You can sign up as a Neighborhood Coordinator on the website. You’ll hear from Wendy or Seth with detailed information and then get a supply of canvas bags.

man at his door giving the thumbs up while holding a Thurston County Food Project green bag
Every two months, fill your green bag with healthy, non-perishable food items. Your neighborhood coordinator will pick it up from your front door. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Food Project

Usually your neighborhood is the people who live around you. As a Neighborhood Coordinator, people you ask may or may not want to join you. That’s expected. Your group can be any size you want whether it’s a few homes or many streets. It’s a fun way to connect with those nearby. Green bags go to those who want to participate. On the designated collection day, the coordinator picks up filled bags and leaves an empty one in its place. The collections are dropped off at the Food Bank’s Mottman Road distribution facility. Other volunteers will receive and sort it – but you could help if you wanted.

Karen Reddick, a neighborhood coordinator, recruits her three children to get in on the action. They help by grabbing bags from people’s home, leaving an empty one, and unpacking the full bags at the receiving area. “I like looking at all the different foods that come in and passing out snacks to all the volunteers with my friend,” says 10-year old Kaitlin. The family also fills its own bag. Karen started with the project when Kaitlin was six. She made a flier for her neighborhood where 15 of 38 people signed up. “It was a big impact for not too much work,” recalls Karen. On pick-up days, her neighbors tell her things like, “I am glad you are doing this. I don’t have to go to the food bank.”

The Food Bank’s Mottman Road Warehouse facility collects the donations from the Thurston County Food Project, that delivers every other month. Food sorters come in all sizes. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Food Project

Karen finds people donate high quality, desirable products. “It’s amazing to see how generous people are,” Karen adds That sentiment was echoed by Bethany Sano, the current board president. The project here runs so well that communities in Bend and Bellingham have modeled their programs from the TCFP.

Credit goes to Don and MaryBeth Cline, who started the organization 13 years ago after being inspired by the program in Ashland, Oregon. They remain as board members. The first year collected just over $12,000 worth of food. “In 2022, we raised $100,000 in food and donations,” reports Beth. Last year 55,139 pounds of food was collected. That’s impressive.

Minimal Time Commitment for Any Thurston County Food Project Activity

There are hungry people in our community. The Thurston County Food Project makes donating food easy and fun for all who participate. Photo courtesy: Thurston County Food Project

Donors fill their personal bags and put it outside every other month.

Neighborhood coordinators send a reminder to their group about pick-up. Depending on how long you chat, the process could be quite speedy.

Receivers/sorters unload cars at the Thurston County Food Bank receiving facility from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. “It’s an hour and a half of chaos, but it’s fun to participate,” says Karen. Everything is weighed and accounted for so that people know how much of a difference they make. High school students can receive community credits for their time.

Ready to get in on the action? You can learn more and sign up on the Thurston County Food Project website. Maybe there’s already a group in your own neighborhood. In addition to non-perishable food items, the project accepts hygiene items. People can make financial donations to the Thurston County Food Bank or the Thurston County Food Project. “We collect money, too,” notes Beth, which pays for insurance, brochures, the famous green bags and magnets.

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