The West Seattle Food Bank will celebrate 30 years of service on Oct. 10. In this Sept. 26 photo, Board Member Reverend Ron Marshall (front) shows off his book on the history of the food bank along with volunteers and Executive Director Fran Yeatts (5th back).
"Hunger Immortal:" West Seattle Food Bank approaching 30 years of service
Open house celebration and historical book release planned for Oct. 10
The West Seattle Food Bank was formed in the early 1980s and originally called the Junction Community Food Bank. Through a long series of “lucky breaks” and a long list of passionate volunteers, staff and philanthropists they have grown exponentially over the decade in providing meals to our neighbors in need.
On Oct. 10, the West Seattle Food Bank (WSFB) will celebrate their 30th Anniversary with an open house celebration and the unveiling of Reverend Ron Marshall’s book, “Hunger Immortal: The First Thirty Years of the West Seattle Food Bank, 1983 – 2013.”
Below you’ll find the celebration announcement from Judi Yazzolino, followed by details from our conversation with Executive Director Fran Yeatts and Board Member Marshall about the food bank’s history and Marshall’s new book.
The West Seattle Food Bank Board of Directors and Staff invite you to join us in the celebration of our 30th Anniversary, Thursday, October 10th from 5 - 7pm! Take a tour, bring your kids and teach them how to give back and learn how we serve our West Seattle community. Get your own signed "hot off the press" copy of "Hunger Immortal: The First Thirty Years of the West Seattle Food Bank, 1983-2013" written by board member Reverend Ron Marshall. Appetizers and beverages will be served. Everyone is welcome!
A history of lucky breaks and a most peculiar donor
The food bank was started in 1983, distributing food from the old Jefferson School initially and moving around many, many times (they were coined the “nomadic food bank” by the West Seattle Herald at one point). They finally settled into a permanent location at the corner of S.W. Genesee near Fauntleroy in 1989 and stayed there for the next 18 years. It was way too small for the food and service they were trying to provide, but it was theirs.
In 1999, the Junction Community Food Bank became the West Seattle Food Bank after a separate non-profit of the same name shut down in 1998.
Today, the WSFB is located on the street-level floor of a modern building complete with other non-profit offices and low-income housing above at corner of 35th and Morgan. They have huge walk in refrigerators and freezers, ample dry food storage, a loading dock, a waiting room with a bathroom for their clients (who no longer need to wait outside in the rain for nutritional assistance), and space for other non-profits to set up and reach people. The new space – built with the help of the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association and opened in 2007 – revolutionized the service they could provide. When they started back in the 80s, the food bank helped out about 75 families a week. Today, they feed an average of 750 families.
One of the more fascinating pieces of the food bank’s history – and a major part of the book Hunger Immortal - revolves around a mysterious man named Earl Vic who had no connection to the food bank, but nonetheless left them over $300,000 in his will. His donation was the key element in making the food bank’s new home a reality, Rev. Marshall said.
“The $64,000 question was never answered: Why did he put the food bank in his will?” he said.
Marshall spent three years researching and writing his book, including 12 months pouring through the West Seattle Herald archives to help discover the food bank’s early history. When it came to Vic, however, there was nothing.
Marshall figured out where he lived in West Seattle and went and talked with his neighbors. They all despised the man, describing him as a lonely curmudgeon who equally despised humankind. Rumors swirled that he may have been a Russian spy, evidenced by his prominent photos of Josef Stalin in the home.
When a check from his estate for $335,000 showed up in the late 90s, the food bank was understandably blown away.
“So I never found out (why) but I came up with what I call six ‘approximate’ reasons why he did it,” Marshall said. “I worked on this for about three years, pondering all this, I came up with six possible reasons.”
To read Marshall’s six possible reasons, you’ll have to buy the book. Regardless, he said, “Vic turned his life around at the end and put the food bank in his will.”
Marshall and Yeats said the food bank’s history is marked by “many lucky breaks, it’s really quite astounding,” from another unexpected donation of $25,000 from actor/comedian Robin Williams to their top-notch staff, volunteers and smaller donors throughout the years.
One last lucky break from the Vic donation that’s worth a mention: The food bank pulled his money from a fund on Sept. 10, 2001, the day before the terrorist attacks rocked our nation and stock market. “The guy who managed the fund figured we saved $100,000 by taking it out when we did,” Marshall said.
Executive Director Fran Yeatts has been with the WSFB since 2001. As they approach the 30 year mark, we asked what she’s most proud of in that time.
“I think it’s been the group of various people who have come together or just supported the cause to really help out people in this neighborhood that they don’t necessarily know,” Yeatts said. “With all these lucky breaks Ron mentioned, there have been a lot of people trying to be very thoughtful on how we move forward with those lucky breaks … how do we invest it to make a better future for the community?”
With those smart decisions they’ve been able to help countless families from all walks of life, she said.
Signed paperback copies of Marshall’s book will be available at the Oct. 10 open house. Additionally, it will be available as an ebook from Amazon. The cost is $30, for 30 years of service (and, of course, that money goes right back to the food bank).
“It’s a very intriguing story,” said the author. “It involves murder, it involves fires, it involves crimes, theft … it’s not your ordinary story … and it’s kind of a window into West Seattle.”
Marshall, who is the reverend at First Lutheran Church in West Seattle and has been on the food bank board since 1996, said the book would make ideal Christmas gifts this year and help the WSFB continue their services into the future (he envisions two under each tree in West Seattle).
Or, you can follow in the footsteps of Vic.
“Help make the food bank even luckier,” he said. “Why don’t you put the food bank in your will like Earl Vic did? Be like Earl, support the food bank and have a legacy here.”