Staff Reporter 

Cleone's needs volunteers for food distribution


The need for food assistance in Airway Heights is growing, and Cleone’s Closet is helping fill the need.

The distribution center, which started operating in March, is struggling to keep up with demand. Volunteers are required to help with the increased need.

Shirlee Hunter, director of the food distribution center, said about 40 people are helped every day, with around 200-300 people helped each week from the surrounding area. There, people are able to receive bread, milk, fresh vegetables and other basic staples to help them out.

“One person may come in for a family of five or four,” Hunter said.

Funding for the food distribution center comes from the thrift store, as the profits flow directly to the center.

“In order to succeed, we need to sell items at the thrift store,” Hunter said. “That’s the whole key in the nutshell.”

But most of all, the distribution center needs volunteers to help with the growing number of people coming to the store. The increasing business quickly outgrew its initial location and meant expanding into the vacant space next to the store in order to effectively operate.

“Word of mouth has brought more and more people in,” Hunter said. “We had to expand to the other side because the demand was so big. So that just increased our monthly output.”

Volunteers would help the store fulfill some of its larger needs, according to Hunter.

“We do need responsible volunteers,” she said. “We do need quality help. Any kind of donations are very helpful.”

The distribution center can’t operate, however, without funds from the thrift store. Hunter said additional grants are being pursued to help lighten the load.

“We are barely holding on,” she said.

Second Harvest Food Bank in Spokane provides them with around 6,000 pounds of food each month, helping to provide basic staples for families in the area.

Hunter recalls one of the more touching moments since the store opened, remembering a woman who came to the door just after the distribution center closed for the night.

“She started crying and said, ‘We just don’t have enough to make it,’” she said. “There is a tremendous need in Airway Heights.”

Monday, July 1, the center will start a food pantry operation, which works in the same style as a food bank, providing assistance to families in need.

“It’s a different kind of a program, based on your income,” she said.

The thrift store is doing well, but is always seeking donations to help fund the food distribution center. At the West Plains Chamber of Commerce Best of the West awards earlier this year, Cleone’s Closet received the non-profit award for 2013. The thrift store opened in January, and has grown at a steady pace since those inaugural days.

Hunter said prices in Cleone’s Closet are made to continuously bring new items into the store.

The food distribution center is open Monday through Thursday from noon to 3 p.m. and is located at 13514 W. Sunset Highway Suite C in Airway Heights. For more information on the store or volunteering, Hunter can be contacted at 509-386-3455.

James Eik can be reached at


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