WALLA WALLA - After years of helping those in need through the annual Care & Share Food Drive, the Walla Walla Association of Realtors finds itself in an unusual position this year: In need of help of its own.
With the community's biggest food drive just a week away, organizers are down about half the manpower needed for the event.
"We will not be successful if we don't have a lot more people," said food drive coordinator Peter Swant of Coldwell Banker First Realtors.
He said the door-to-door food drive usually takes place with the help of 105 volunteers. As of Friday, only 48 were on board.
"It just seems like overall we're not getting the participation we have in the past," Swant said.
Coincidentally, the need for food has never been greater, said Gail McGhee, manager of the Blue Mountain Action Council food bank.
"It's bad, bottom line," McGhee said.
She said the food bank is seeing upward of 900 families each month, compared to 600 or 700 per month during a typical year.
"And it's not the people you're used to seeing," she said. "It's everyday people. Two-parent working families."
The increased demand is not the only part of the equation. There's also a decrease in the operation's regular food supply. Support has diminished from government programs that typically contributed staples such as peanut butter, she said.
"I've been here 21 years and I have never seen a year like this," McGhee lamented.
The annual food drive is one of two communitywide collection events. The Realtors run their event the third week of October. This Friday evening or Saturday volunteers will drop off orange plastic sacks at local homes. Residents are asked to fill the sacks with nonperishable food items that will be collected after noon Sunday.
Those collections typically stock the food bank - which also supplies St. Vincent De Paul, the Salvation Army, Pantry Shelf and, for food emergencies, Helpline - through May when the postal workers kick off their collection.
McGhee said the food bank has been receiving regular contributions of produce from WalMart and Albertson's. What the operation mostly needs is canned goods and boxed foods.
In the meantime, the Realtors need people to collect it.
Swant said he plans to visit Walla Walla High School on Monday to recruit students who may have community service credits to fulfill. But he doesn't anticipate enough volunteers from that effort to fill the void.
He said the school district has already agreed to help in another way, too. The district typically puts on its own food drive in December with a challenge in the community to fill a school bus with food. Swant said district officials have agreed to bump that effort up to Oct. 15 to help with the immediate need.
Those interested in volunteering will be able to do so at Land Title Company. By noon Tuesday a map marked with the various collection territories for the food drive will be available for viewing at the title company located at First Avenue and Main Street. People can see which territories are available and sign up for one.
Swant said the average territory includes 20 to 25 homes. Some territories are as big as 40 homes. He said the dropoff portion takes longer than Sunday's pickup because not all residents will participate.
Those who can't make it to Land Title Company throughout the week to volunteer for a territory can sign up by calling Swant at 520-1120.