It may not have looked like it Tuesday as Marty Smith and Bob Bridge shored up the back side of the Concrete Food Bank, but the building is on a solid foundation.
Financially, at least.
Bridge and Smith are longtime volunteers at the food bank and nearly saw the place close down earlier this year. Skagit County owned the nearly century old building and decided to auction it off after it fell into disrepair. Volunteers didn't have the money to buy it, so it looked like the food bank would have to close, leaving some 360 people without food every month.
But that didn't happen thanks to one mysterious man.
"I didn't know he was from the Mount Vernon area," said Smith. "It was a surprise to me."
Someone came forward willing to buy the building at auction and give it to the food bank. He is a man known and respected around the world, but he is a local at heart.
"We've sort of watched his career over the years," said Bridge, ripping up a chunk of warped flooring. "My wife's maiden name is Gates so we've always kind of paid attention to him."
It was indeed a certain "Mr. Gates" who came to the rescue. But not the one you're thinking about.
It was former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In this case he was defending the hungry in the town that he loves.
"I thought are you kidding?" said Smith with a laugh. "Things don't happen like that out here!"
It turns out Gates lives in Skagit County and decided to help when he heard news of the food bank's imminent demise. He served as defense secretary in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. He retired in 2011.
Gates paid $11,500 for the food bank.
"I don't know that there's words to say the true feeling, but we're very grateful," said Smith.
The former secretary's generosity doesn't end there. Gates is offering to match additional donations up to $10,000 for money to help repair the 97-year-old building.
"It needs a lot of work, and it's going to cost a lot of money," said Smith, "but it'll be great once we get it done. Mr. Gates is a true American."
Donations can be made to any Columbia Bank branch, including the one at 45872 Main Street, Concrete 98237. The phone number is 360-853-8171. Checks should be made to the Concrete Food Bank Building Account. They can also be mailed to: Concrete Food Bank P.O. Box 53, Concrete, 98237.
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