Food bank in Twisp sees surge in need
If there is one thing that keeps Glenn Schmekel up at night during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the thought of people in the Methow Valley fearing that they will not have enough to eat.
Of course, Schmekel is also worried about the virus spreading and infecting people he loves and cares about, but as founder and director of The Cove food bank in Twisp, he has devoted his life to feeding those in need in the Methow Valley, and he continues to put that obligation first and foremost — even in these strange, challenging times.
The need for The Cove’s services has increased significantly in recent weeks: 20% more households have come to pick up groceries over the past three weeks. The food bank also provides a backpack full of food for students on free or reduced lunch each Friday to help get them through the weekend. Normally, the Friday Food program distributes 130 backpacks each week. Last week 418 backpacks were distributed.
“This is much more of an increase than we would normally see in the shoulder season,” Schmekel said, referring to the lull in tourism that occurs in early spring and late fall in the Methow Valley, which relies heavily on those dollars. Schmekel said normally the Cove serves people who are on social security or fixed incomes. “The new people — the 20% that have come recently — were people whose workload has been drastically cut or ended in the service department or business.
“Or,” Schmekel added, “they felt like they needed to have more food in case of quarantine.”
Hoarding food and supplies is a privilege that is out of reach for many in the valley. One recent donor to The Cove said she went to the grocery store to stock up on supplies and couldn’t help but think of those who did not have the financial ability to do the same. That was what inspired her to support The Cove, Schmekel said, adding that The Cove has received 19 donations in the last week.
“We’ve had so many gracious acts of kindness that I don’t want to say that we’re needy,” Schmekel said.
But Schmekel anticipates that the need will increase in the coming weeks and months. He estimates that an additional 50 households will seek support from The Cove during the coming spring and summer months, at an estimated total cost of $4,500. The Cove also operates the Aid and Assistance Program, which provides emergency financial help to cover rent, utilities, gas money and medical bills. Schmekel anticipates that fund will require an additional $7,500 to meet the increased need in the coming months.
The financial hardship facing people in the Methow Valley mirrors that of people across the country. The Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis released projections late last week that the unemployment rate could surpass that of the Great Depression –rising to 32% — in the coming months. An estimated 47 million jobs could be lost.
However, Schmekel says people in this valley have a tradition of looking out for one another.
“I am feeling so fortunate that our community is responding in such a positive way,” he said. “I’m not seeing negativity or hoarding, but a willingness to share and a trust in the future and the goodwill of man is really coming out. For me, that means we have some good hearts all around.”
The Cove has adopted standard statewide guidelines for food bank organizations –including washing hands, keeping physical distance and wearing gloves and masks where appropriate. People are not allowed into the building to pick up food. Instead, all the grocery bags are pre-packed and delivered to people waiting 6-10 feet apart outside on the sidewalk.
Schmekel says, most of all, he misses spending time with his clientele each week. People will regularly stop in for a hug or a chat. “They know that we’re a family of community support. The food bank is more than just food,” he said.
But he says he still hears from his regulars, and that warms his heart. “They’ll call in and say, ‘I can’t come in today. I don’t want you to worry about me,’” he said.
The Cove, located at 128 Glover St. in Twisp, is open from 1–4 p.m. every Thursday and, Schmekel says, all are welcome. “We don’t check your income, social security. We don’t check any of that,” he said. “If you present yourself in need, that’s good enough for us. Our business is not who deserves it or who doesn’t.”