One thing that sets Lewis County apart is the ability of its residents to come together to help our neighbors when they need it most. The Greater Chehalis Food Bank is evidence of that hospitality and caring spirit. As Sue Austin knows, it is a thing of beauty to see a community come together in support.
Sue is originally from Chehalis and attended Chehalis schools. She graduated from W.F. West High School and continued her education at Centralia College, Pacific Lutheran University and obtained her master’s degree from the University of Portland. She is a retired teacher who worked in the classroom and as a school librarian, teaching and guiding elementary kids all the way up to middle school and even coached W.F. West cheerleading. Her time with the district allowed her to help generations of kids in Chehalis.
Since her retirement, Sue has volunteered with many projects and organizations including Chehalis Schools and Veterans Memorial Museum. And now Sue is continuing to give back to her community by serving on the board of The Greater Chehalis Food Bank.
Sue says, “I like helping people and I felt that there was a real need for helping people get food. Especially after working with kids in schools and seeing that many did not have enough to eat.” Sue’s legacy with The Greater Chehalis Food Bank is one of giving back, but also one of inspiration.
“My husband would be selling houses, and walking through the empty houses he would see rice and beans that had been from the food bank and they were just sitting on the empty shelves,” Sue adds. “Sometimes they had sprouted.”
Her husband’s stories sparked an idea. Sue began talking with her niece, Kim Witham, who was a Pampered Chef consultant, and began brainstorming ideas for what a cooking class at the food bank might look like.
“I wanted to create a class that people could make better use from the choices of food we have for them at the food bank and how to expand their resources—especially meat,” Sue explains. Now Kim Witham and Anna Greenly teach cooking classes at The Greater Chehalis Food Bank.
Sue credits a lot of what the food bank can provide to a generous community of givers. For instance, this year one company donated enough money that the food bank can provide flour and sugar to its clients for the entire year. Other generous donations from local businesses and private citizens help The Greater Chehalis Food Bank give as much as they can to help feed hungry families.
The food bank serves an average of 500 families per month in Chehalis, Adna, Napavine and Boisfort areas. Sue believes that because the need is so great county wide, it is important for the local food banks to work together and serve their local areas.
This helps to ensure that there are enough resources to go around.
Sue adds, “If someone is in need, we never turn them away. We tell them about their nearest food bank and give them enough food for a day.”
It might be surprising to learn that families are allowed to visit their food bank once per month and the provisions that they are given are intended to last about four days. Sue explains, “The food bank is intended as a supplement to help stretch resources between food stamps.”
Another reason why the cooking classes offered at the food bank are so important is that learning how to cook helps families best use resources so they last as long as possible. With the aid of generous donations, families who visit the food bank have just a little less worry about where their next meal is coming from.
The Greater Chehalis Food Bank, as with all local foodbanks, is in need of volunteers and donations. People can give back by donating their time and volunteering or by donating money or food.
“We are truly blessed with wonderful volunteers who donate a lot of time. Also, students from Chehalis Middle School come over and volunteer and help carry boxes of food out to cars for our clients,” Sue says. “It’s wonderful to see them giving back to a community that gives lots of support through sports and other school activities.”
As for Sue, she is always looking for the next inspiration for new projects to bring to the food bank that will benefit the families they serve.
“I’m always trying to find new and exciting things and telling people about the food bank,” she says. “We are so lucky to have so much good stuff going on in our community.”