Over the roar of traffic along Rainier Avenue South, Patricia Shepard shouts to open car windows. “Free food! Free food!”

For the last few weeks, Shepard, administrator at the Greater New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, and her fellow members have been distributing produce boxes every Friday afternoon from the parking lot of their church, just south of the Columbia City neighborhood in South Seattle.

Cars slow and pull up to the curb to receive the bounty. 

“The first time it was gone in an hour,” said the Rev. Dana McClendon, senior pastor of the church. He’s been pastoring there for 24 years. 

The church has stepped up their outreach efforts since the coronavirus pandemic hit. They had been distributing sandwiches and food downtown and along the Rainier Avenue South corridor on the last Friday of every month, but they recently added several $25 gift cards to their giveaways. They’ve got a voter-registration drive coming up soon.

“In the community every voice needs to be heard,” said Kristie McClendon, the pastor’s wife, who had the idea for the voting drive.

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Tommie Willis and his wife Venice Willis are members of the church and own and operate Terrebonne Truck Patch, a small farm in Duvall. They had a connection to receive boxes of produce from the Farmers to Families program, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s coronavirus relief program. 

Many large farms in Central and Eastern Washington faced surplus crops that they couldn’t sell because of declining demand from restaurants and other big customers due to COVID-19. The USDA paid for some of these crops to be packaged for distribution by nonprofits. The boxes at the church were from Chelan Fresh in central Washington and contained 8 pounds of potatoes, 3 pounds of onions and 10 pounds of apples.

The Willis’ farm is small enough that they haven’t had a problem with surplus crops. But they bring some of their own fruit and vegetables to give to folks as well, from sweet watermelon to carrots, cabbage, and cucumbers.

“We’re just a small family church that wants to do good in the community,” said Pastor McClendon. “Every little bit counts.”

The church plans to do the free food distribution for the next few weeks on Fridays at 1 p.m. and voter registration every other Saturday starting Sept. 12 from noon to 4 p.m. For more information check their website at gnbchurch.com