The Thurston County Food Bank has been finding new ways to get food to the increasing number of people who need it during the new coronavirus pandemic. The latest: A special drive-through event at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey on Thursday.

A similar event is planned there later this month.

The food bank has been doing some limited home delivery and partnering with North Thurston Public Schools and Olympia School District, which are operating several food distribution sites for students and their families. Bags of groceries are handed out alongside sack lunches, Executive Director Robert Coit told The Olympian. The bank has been providing roughly 1,400 bags per week at NTPS sites alone, according to Coit.

The food bank had been struggling for volunteers, and has recently gotten some help with that: The United Way of Thurston County and Community Foundation of South Puget Sound hired four displaced restaurant employees who were placed at the Food Bank. Plus, some community members have stepped up, and he just learned a few National Guardsmen requested from the state will eventually be able lend a hand here.

As the pandemic evolves along with the government mandates meant to slow the virus’s spread, the community’s needs also are evolving. The food bank has been adjusting its services day-to-day in response to phone calls from people who need help, Coit said.

“Over the last couple weeks, we realized we weren’t getting to everyone because the phone kept ringing,” Coit said. People called in who don’t have kids in school, couldn’t get to one of the sites, or didn’t feel comfortable standing in line at the food bank to be handed a bag.

Last month, the food bank hosted two drive-up distribution days at its downtown Olympia location -- one for seniors and one for heads of households. With that practice under their belt, Coit said the food bank was ready to try something bigger. The City of Lacey was the first call he made.

Coit said Lacey found the location and helped work out the technical details, such as a memorandum of understanding among the parties, behind the scenes. And Saint Martin’s University was able to provide a site and support ideal for the event.

The Grand Staircase by Spangler Hall off of Pacific Avenue Southeast is easy to access, and the parking lot makes it possible to accommodate a lot of people, Saint Martin’s spokesperson Genevieve Canceko Chan told The Olympian. The university also provided staff volunteers from Public Safety and Campus Ministry, and a student was helping out as well, Chan said.

“We are so thankful and excited that we could partner with the food bank and the city in this way -- it really speaks to our Benedictine values of community and justice,” Chan wrote in an email.

Thursday’s event wasn’t for a target population, it was “for everybody and anybody,” Coit said.

The bank prepared 200 boxes of shelf-stable food, fresh produce, bakery items, and deli items, and Coit was confident all of those boxes would be distributed -- maybe more.

Judy Jones, the food bank’s development director who was handling the onsite loading logistics, said, “We were hoping to fill at least 100 requests today and already have had over 50 loads finished within the first two hours.”

The next drive-through Food Bank event

Another event is planned for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 23 at the same place on Saint Martin’s campus, Coit said.

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