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Jack Kintner

Miracle Food Network (MFN), a non-profit food distribution agency in Ferndale, has significantly increased its operations since the start of the pandemic. To quickly respond to needs after a major disaster, he joined forces with the Emergency Volunteer Air Corps (EVAC) during the Thunder Run emergency preparedness exercise, during which more than 19 tons of food was delivered to regional airports on June 18.

“The pandemic really accelerated things as people stayed at home,” said Doug Robertson, founder and president of MFN. MFN Operations Manager Lorrie Chapman said the 200 MFN volunteers increased the amount of surplus food they distribute in 2020 as the pandemic lockdown began.

“We have increased the amount of food collected and delivered from 36,000 pounds in 2019 to 600,000 pounds in 2020,” said Robertson. This means an almost 1600 percent increase. Last year, that figure rose to £1 million.

“And this year it will be almost double that,” Chapman said.

Robertson said he developed the idea for MFN while volunteering to help the homeless on the Lummi Reservation and also worked with the Lummi Nation to build the Silver Reef Casino on Haxton Way. Robertson said making connections is his approach to hunger.

“Hunger is a symptom,” he said. “The problem is the lack of social mobility. There’s a lot of food, but the key is to get it in people’s mouths.”

MFN receives and distributes food through an impressive network of local churches, food banks, school districts, and well-informed neighbors, especially in the more rural areas of Whatcom County.

What distinguishes Robertson’s efforts is the growing scale of his work, with friends in California suggesting that semi-trucks be used to haul tons of food that would otherwise end up in landfills. Two percent of what is now being thrown into landfills could feed many, if not all, food insecure people, Robertson said.

The scale at which Robertson’s activities are developing, and the partners and volunteers he is gathering, make them an integral part of the fight against a major disaster.

“The MFN network covers the last mile, connecting resources to human needs without hesitation. Our volunteers were among the first to deliver food to the Soumas community during the November 2021 floods because MFN was already connected locally through its previous service,” said Robertson.

In Whatcom County, a major quake along the 621-mile coastal fault line, which has historically produced strong earthquakes of magnitude 8 to 9, is a potential emergency.

Severe damage can range from northern Vancouver Island to California. “The question is not if, but when,” said pilot Sky Terry, director of emergency services for the northwest region of EVAC.

Major earthquakes have occurred every 300–500 years along this fault line, known as the Cascadia subduction zone. The last major earthquake it produced was 322 years ago. “We’re at the window,” Terry said. “It may have already happened by the time people are reading this. We must be ready.”

The quake, described as “large”, is expected to damage roads, rails and bridges, especially along the coast, making relief difficult or impossible. To prepare, Terry, along with other EVAC and Disaster Response Team (DART) pilots associated with the West Coast General Aviation Response Plan, conducted a disaster exercise called “Thunder Run” at Bellingham International Airport on June 18.

More than 50 small planes and pilots delivered about 19 tons of food to Bellingham and other small regional airports in the northwest and British Columbia, according to a carefully tested system developed by MFN.

These small planes are ideal for this type of terrain as they can carry up to half a ton or more and land on various makeshift runways.

The weather for Thunder Run was not ideal, but the mission was completed despite some pilots canceling it. Pilots included highly trained retired captains from major airlines such as Doug Cole of Delta and Jim Higginson of Air Canada.

EVAC and DART pilots have been running practice runs since 2009, and last weekend’s exercise with MFN demonstrated that when the time comes, help will be on the way.

“We know we can help,” Terry said. “To be ready, we need to train.”

For more information, go to the MFN website at magicfoodnetwork.org. Pilots with a rating and at least 250 flight hours can learn more about participation on the EVAC website, evac.org.

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