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Mabton VFW, food bank at odds

MABTON - Four non-profit organizations in Mabton share a 1910 brick structure in need of some serious TLC.

A church, Alcoholics Anonymous and the Mabton Food Bank meet in the Mabton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, a building that, according to State Assistant Quartermaster Greg Schlieve, is in need of a roof and new gravel, among other things, to keep its insurance.

"We realized that we had about $2,500 in repairs to make if we do all the work," said Schlieve, adding that there was only $18 in the bank.

He said that extra expenses are incurred because the food bank is located in the building, citing the extra garbage can, electricity to run freezers and liability insurance carried by the charter since the food bank is under the VFWs non-profit number.

He said in the past the VFW wanted to support the food bank so strongly that it didn't make a cent on rent.

"We can't even buy stamps to run our business on what we make," said Schlieve, who is one of group trying to save the Mabton VFW charter.

In efforts to raise the needed funds, letters were sent out to the three organizations using the building, announcing the rent would be raised.

Co-coordinator of the Mabton Food Bank, Vera Zavala, said with the rent increase one-third of the money the food bank receives annually from the United Way will be eaten up.

Zavala said in the three years she has been running the food bank along with other volunteers, she has made several repairs to the inside of the building, including replacing some of the windows and painting the floor of the portion of the building she frequently uses. They have also cleaned the common areas of the building and pulled weeds and cleaned up the parking lot, she said. Zavala added she has repeatedly complained about some of the conditions of the building, including the leaky roof, to no avail. She said the leaks in the building have ruined her stores of rice and beans.

She said the price is too steep for the food bank, which feeds about 300 families a month. Rent went from $170 a month to $250 per month.

"I'm here to help people who need help," she said.

She said that the food bank had a large dumpster brought in, which was necessary to run the food bank. She said their rent was increased when the dumpster was brought to the building.

Zavala said the city of Mabton is currently trying to find a different location for the food bank to be housed.

City of Mabton officials signed a letter supporting the efforts to keep the VFW charter, according to City Administrator Ildia Jackson.

"When we gave them a letter of support they had made, what I feel, was a commitment to keeping the food bank open," said Jackson.

Jackson said that the tone of the letter the VFW sent to the food bank was "totally unnecessary."

"The VFW is acting as if the food bank has been an inconvenience to the veterans and led to hardship.

"They're asking for one-third of the money from United Way, which should be going back to the people," Jackson added.

Mabton Mayor David Conradt was also disappointed in the way the food bank is being treated.

"This is an organization in our city that, with volunteers, is providing food for those in need in our town," said Conradt. "They're (the VFW) increasing rent on something that does not make money."

He added that the letter to the food bank was "pretty blunt" and wondered why a volunteer group, such as a food bank, should be charged rent at all.

Schlieve said without repairs to the building the charter would lose its insurance, shutting the building down.

"An insurance company came and inspected our property and said it was unsafe," said Schlieve.

He said rent was raised for all users of the building and that members' dues were raised 50 percent.

"If we go under, they all go under," he said. "They've already said there isn't any other place in Mabton where they can meet."

He said the members of the Mabton post will have to get back into the fund-raising mode to raise money for the group.

When the post was first in trouble of losing its charter last November, Schlieve said there were about 13 members of the organization. Now, he said there are about 39, about half of which live in Mabton.

Schlieve said this past spring they held elections, but none of the Mabton members, who are mostly veterans from World War II and the Korean War, wanted to run for office.

"They said sell the building," said Schlieve. He added that some of the new members, not the old ones from Mabton, are pitching in $100 each to help save the post, so they can help veterans.

"We want to do the work we do as the VFW and help the veterans in the community financially and with other needs," he said.

Schlieve said the food bank isn't the only group having a difficult time coming up with the extra rent money.

He said that if the groups are unable to continue to rent it would be bad for the post, which borrowed $2,000 from a member to get repairs underway.

"If any were to pull out I think that would be the end of the post," he said.

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