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Matthew 25:35-40 — For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me ... The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
WALLA WALLA — The Bible has it right, said Doug Tollerud, the Salvation Army’s northwest divisional commander, quoting versus in the Book of Matthew. “We serve those in the shadows.”
Tollerud and Shaun Jones, service extension director for the Northwest region, were in town from headquarters in Seattle last week to talk about plans for a new food distribution center to be built at the organization’s West Alder Street address.
Since 1892, the Salvation Army has had a presence in Walla Walla, helping needy residents with food, emergency rent and utility money, plus programs for children.
It is the feeding of the hungry that has outgrown the current food pantry space of 400 square-feet, noted J. Andrew Rodriguez, a Walla Walla consultant who chairs the Salvation Army board here. The pantry served up groceries more than 7,000 times in 2012, or 628 families per month — an increase from 2011 of nearly 30 percent.
“We distributed 53 tons of food out of the 20-by-20-foot room,” Rodriguez said.
Families meeting eligibility requirements can use the Salvation Army and other food pantries to stretch the grocery budget, getting staples such as rice, beans, flour and seasonal produce.
The space is inadequate for its mission, the trio said. Such cramped quarters means bagging up 30 to 40 pounds of groceries and handing it to the recipient, with no hope of allowing choices that might be better used by the family.
At 3,800 square feet the new facility will allow families to shop the shelves, choosing pinto beans over pasta, for example, and taking home larger boxes of food.
It gets better, the three men said, rolling out the architect’s blueprint like young boys anxious to unwrap a gift.
“We’re going to have a demo kitchen,” Tollerud said, pointing to a generous room on the drawing with a wall of appliances and cabinets sketched in.
“If people know how to cook the food we have on our shelves, the more likely they are to be able to use it.”
Like butternut squash, which comes to local food banks via backyard gardens and farms.
“Now my wife will bake that and put butter and brown sugar on it,” Tollerud said.
Not everyone, however, has been exposed to that particular vegetable or cooking from scratch, which could render a butternut squash useless to them, he added.
With regular cooking classes in place right at the spot where the food is handed out, the hope is to teach people about nutrition, meal planning and creativity in cooking, Rodriguez said.
To that end, the Salvation Army will partner with Walla Walla Community College’s Wine Country Culinary Institute. Student chefs will fulfill some of their work experience requirements by teaching to cooking classes, said Dan Thiessen.
The concept dovetails very well with the culinary institute director’s vision for the program, he said. “It’s more of putting the ‘community’ into ‘community college.’ This is an opportunity for students — if we can provide cooking instructions easily, they can put that product to good use. We’d love to be a part of that.”
The budding chefs will get credit hours, plus a different perspective on service to their community, Thiessen said.
“Farm-to-table or plow-to-plate are the buzz words right now. The table isn’t always a table for two in a fine dining restaurant ... the definition of plate is not always fine bone china. Sometimes it’s a cup in a soup kitchen.”
There is a bigger calling than working in a four-star restaurant or being a top chef, he continued. “... that is taking care of a community as a whole. There are a lot of people who need to get fed.”
It is fortunate that so many in Walla Walla feel the same way, Tollerud said.
The new building, which will be adjacent to the existing office building, has a $700,000 price tag. Of that, $600,000 has been raised, with the Seattle headquarters matching private donations dollar for dollar.
Tollerud pointed out this town has always been supportive of the church’s mission, and people appreciate that their money stays here for the work at hand.
A summer ground breaking for the new building will signal a chance for even more community involvement. The space will include offices for case managers and a meeting room, which officials expect to be attractive to the three West Walla Walla neighborhoods surrounding the Salvation Army office at 827 W. Alder St.
“Right now there is no place to meet for these neighbors,” Rodriguez said. “They have to use the fire station.”
Group space will foster cohesion, he feels. “This will be a catalyst for community involvement.”
With that, the Salvation Army plans to eventually host Scouting programs for kids living in a area that stretches from Blue Ridge Elementary School to the Edith-Carrie neighborhood just below Washington State Penitentiary grounds. The new facility will have room for teen programs, especially classes that teach those ready to fly the nest how to cook food.
Once the final $100,000 in donations has been gathered and the building built, the project will generate the need for many more volunteers for the new opportunities, Rodriguez said.
“And they will come.”
For more information go to www.SalvationArmyNW.org or 509-520-1838.