Tara Groninger was named “Oakvillian of the Year” on Friday night at the Oakville Community Center for her revival of the Oakville Food Bank during a time of great need brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oakville Mayor Angelo Cilluffo presented Groninger with a plaque and thanked her for her contributions to the city at a small socially-distanced ceremony.
“She and her dedicated invaluable friends started a food bank virtually from scratch. What began with making some calls and asking some questions has turned into a thriving organization that is providing thousands — let me say that again for emphasis — thousands of meals for people in need, right here in Oakville,” Angelo said.
Groninger has a personal connection to the food bank, which hasn’t been operational for the past three years, because her grandmother, Deanna Lindholm, established the food bank 35 years ago in the same building it's operating out of now.
“Many, many changes happened over the years, but one thing remains the same — I always knew there was a hunger issue and I was always taught to help feed your neighbors. I grew up watching the people who were most important to me bag food and hand it out on a monthly basis,” Groninger said on Friday night.
Groninger operates the food bank with the help of several other volunteers, including Oakville City Councilor Julie Zehe and her daughter, Kaylee, and long-time Oakville citizen John Sharp. Groninger’s two sons, Tony and Latrevious, helped out as well.
“It was really special to do it with my two sons because they got to learn about community service throughout the past nine months. I’m proud that they were a part of it. I think it’s the most important thing I’ve taught the kids through the whole pandemic — to just give back. It’s been good for them,” she said.
Groninger started distributing food in her backyard on April 9, and after meeting with state Rep. Jim Walsh, she was able to operate out of the food bank in the Oakville Community Center on May 8. She worked with Northwest Harvest and the Elma Food Bank to acquire and hand out about 4,000 boxes of nonperishable food and produce. The Oakville Fire Department held a food drive, and more food was collected at the “Oakvillian of the Year” ceremony.
The food bank hands out produce boxes every Thursday and non-perishable food every other Saturday. Groninger said that the food bank services 56 people on non-perishable days and between 60 and 80 people on produce days. The food bank was able to coordinate with the Oakville School District and distribute food to those in need as the school already delivers lunches to students.
The Oakville Food Bank recently started up a “hygiene program” to deliver hygiene packs with soap, shampoo, conditioner, razors, loofah, body wash, toothbrushes and toothpaste to local teenagers.
“The school bus driver actually takes those to the kids that need them the most because they’re on the front lines and they see the kids,” Groninger said. “When we started this we were thinking we were going to hand out about 20 packs and immediately the requests were for 40 packs.”
The hygiene pack for girls also includes feminine products provided by “NoProblem.Period,” a program started by two Rochester students to make feminine products more accessible in schools. Molina Healthcare provided masks, hand sanitizer and COVID-19 information packets that are included in the hygiene kits.
The Oakville Food Bank also coordinated with the Chehalis Tribe and Don Secena to distribute to tribal members in need.
In addition to growing the food bank in Oakville, when the threat of COVID-19 isn’t as high, Groninger said she hopes to establish a Boys and Girls Club to provide the community a more affordable childcare option.
“Oakville is a unique little town,” Mayor Cilluffo said. “People here take care of our own, and Tara (Groninger) exemplifies the best of that.”