Cheney Free Press -


Stocking shelves

EWU food drive wraps up sixth successful year


John McCallum

Facility Food Finders team leader Karen Wichman holds the first-place trophy aloft while Eastern Washington University Food Drive chair Nadine Arévalo and others applaud.

When Eastern Washington University staff members got together in summer 2008 to come up with the idea for a community food drive, the intent was to help local food banks simply get through the summer months – a time when donations typically dry up.

Six years later, the university’s annual food drive is doing much more than that. Cheney Food Bank director John Matthews told a group of over two dozen university staff members assembled in Showalter Hall’s rotunda to mark the end of the 2013 drive that between the staff drive and one held by student organizations during Homecoming the food bank gets over half of its yearly food resources via EWU’s help.

This year’s drive raised over $15,000 in cash, bumping its six-year total to $72,083 and some change. Drive chair Nadine Arévalo said in that six years they have raised 16.25 tons of food, a figure that includes 1,765 pounds collected in 2013.

The drive has also expanded into other areas such as collecting school supplies for local students and filling backpacks full of food. Arévalo said in five years they have collected 256 backpacks full of school supplies while sponsoring 120 students in the Backpacks for Kids food program, raising $19,440 total for the Communities in Schools organization that provides a backpack full of food each Friday over the course of the school year to students who sign up.

This year’s drive netted 43 backpacks full of supplies. Of the $15,000 raised, $6,804 goes to Communities in Schools – helping 42 local students receive a backpack full of food each week – with $2,000 to Cheney Outreach, $1,000 to Feed Cheney and $5,121 to Cheney Food Bank.

Matthews said the Food Bank’s collection needs have changed from gathering tonnage to now gathering coinage.

“The ability to purchase (food) is big,” he said. “That $5,000 will probably get $10,000 in food. Cash is king.”

“And it doesn’t weigh as much,” Arévalo added.

When EWU’s drive started in 2008 the Cheney Food Bank had 310 families registered, and served an average of around 200 people, 90 families, on a monthly basis. The Food Bank services an area stretching from the Whitman County line in the south to Interstate 90 in the north, and from the Lincoln County line in the west to Sherman Road in the east.

Today Matthews said they have over 400 families registered, a figure that’s growing despite an average of 100 families moving off that assistance each year. The Food Bank gives out about 100,000 pounds of food each year, with families using the resource about three times annually.

“For an emergency food bank, we’re not a supplemental food program,” Matthews said.

Teams participating in EWU’s food drive use a variety of methods to collect and raise donations. The winning team, Facility Food Finders, developed the idea a couple years ago to collect stuff students leave behind when vacating dorm rooms for the summer, and holding a rummage sale.

This year that sale took place over Cheney Rodeo weekend, and raised $3,700 from items that carried no price tags. What little wasn’t sold went to Spokane organizations such as Arc and Crosswalk.

“We always sell things for a donation only,” team leader Karen Wichman said. “We really helped a lot of organizations with that and we didn’t put anything in the Dumpster.”

Arévalo said the success of the university’s food drive comes from a number of areas, and isn’t limited to a few groups of individuals.

“Every year it just amazes me, totally, the generosity of the community and the hard work that goes on behind the scenes,” she said.

John McCallum can be reached at


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