She knew there were people in need living in the area and she saw it as her responsibility to help them.
“The Lord laid it on my heart,” explains Walster, “and it was something I felt called to do.”
She adds, “I contacted four women and we got together to discuss the idea of opening a food bank because at that time there wasn’t one in Maltby. The nearest food bank was in Monroe or Snohomish.”
With the generous support of three area churches, several local businesses and the community, Walster and her group turned the old Maltby Mercantile into the Make Me a Blessing Food Bank.
Over the ensuing years, the food bank moved, first to the Clearview Community Club and then to an office building in Maltby where it resides today.
In the beginning, the nonprofit organization, which became known as the Maltby Food Bank, serviced 15 families. Today, 155 to 165 families make weekly visits to the food bank.
“The number has just kept rising,” comments Walster, “but it really went up significantly a few years ago when the economy got worse.”
The local woman views the food bank’s role as helping those who can no longer stretch their budget to cover their food costs.
She notes there is a high percentage of seniors in this challenging situation, as well as parents who are experiencing difficulty in putting enough food on the table to adequately feed their kids.
“It’s not easy for people to come to grips with the realization that they need the services of a food bank,” says Walster. “For many, it’s awkward and embarrassing, and very humbling. That’s why it’s so important that we, as volunteers, make everyone feel comfortable.
“We respect all who come here, and we never look down on anyone.” She adds, “We care about our clients and we take the time to get to know them.”
Being in unincorporated Snohomish County, there is no Rotary or Chamber of Commerce to assist this much needed service, which presented a challenge for the organization in regards to having sufficient amounts of food available to meet the needs of its clients. Joining Food Lifeline was an important key to dealing with this continuous problem.
“That has really helped us,” comments Walster, “and we work with area grocery stores, while the community fills in the gaps, allowing us to provide dairy, meat, produce and staples, as well as other items like pet food, baby supplies and backpacks for kids. We have such a wonderful, giving community, not to mention an incredible group of dedicated volunteers who work very hard.”
She notes that the food bank is 100 percent volunteer-operated.
“Volunteers are the lifeline of this place,” she adds.
“All of us here love what we do and we depend on one another to get the job done.”
Walster has been at the helm of the organization since its inception, holding a variety of jobs, such as driving the van to pick up food from area grocery stores, holding food drives, ordering food, attending meetings and doing the lion’s share of the paperwork.
She has been a constant presence, working tirelessly, but always with a smile on her face and a sympathetic ear for both clients and volunteers.
Soon, however, Walster will step down from her duties and hand over the reins of the organization to the current assistant director, Natalie Oswald.
“It’s time for me to retire,” explains Walster. “My husband and I have things we want to do. I want to spend more time being a grandma and now a great-grandma as well.”
She adds, “I’m just going to take life as it comes and move with the flow, but I’ll still drop into the food bank from time to time.”
Oswald admits it will be impossible to fill Walster’s shoes.
She says, “There’s no way anyone can replace Fran. She is the face of the food bank and it will be quite different here without her.
“She is such a giving woman, who has a special gift for connecting with people. She knows the needs of the community so well and over the years, she has touched many lives.”
On a personal note, Oswald comments that Walster has been a wonderful mentor and she will deeply miss her guidance and loving spirit.
Longtime volunteer Vera Byng echoes Oswald’s sentiments, adding, “Fran built a foundation of incredible trust with our supporters and immense compassion for our clients. She is leaving very large shoes to fill.”
The organization is planning a retirement party for Walster and invites well-wishers in the community to celebrate and bid farewell to a food bank icon.
See page 3 for details on the retirement party.