Food banks seeing shift in clients and overall drop recently
Doug Ramsay photo
Sky Valley Food Bank volunteer Terri Picchi (left) hands a full case of frozen Cornish game hens to a client at the food bank in Monroe on Wednesday, July 15.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Area food bank directors are not sure if right now they are in the calm before the next wave.
Two uncertainties exist: One, the federal government’s additional $600 a week unemployment benefit will conclude July 25 if Congress does not vote to extend it; and, two, food stamp recipients are receiving an enlarged monthly stipend on EBT cards as a temporary measure in response to coronavirus.
Both factors may be playing in to why the number of people utilizing a food bank has receded back to near-pre-COVID-19 numbers, food bank directors in Snohomish and Monroe report.
A third factor is a federal USDA control that resumed July 1, after a temporary suspension, to require food banks to verify people’s
identification for the bank to be supplied with USDA food donations. The feds want to be sure people getting food are from the immediate area.
With unemployment in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett statistical region dropping as the economy reopens but still high at a little over 9% for June — pre-COVID, it was under 4% — food banks may be seeing more clients come August if benefits get reduced. (Snohomish County-specific figures for June will be released after the Tribune’s press time, but statewide unemployment figures for June are much lower than May’s figures.)
“I don’t think we’ve seen the biggest impact,” and that will be “when unemployment and EBT goes down,” Sky Valley Food Bank director Cindy Chessie said.
Food banks are prepared and ready to serve with open arms, directors emphasized.
“We’re ready,” said Elizabeth Grant, director of the Snohomish Community Food Bank. The freezers are full, and the federal government has been delivering mass quantities of farm goods. Cash donations are helping food banks buy quality meats and dairy.
”Our community is just magical,” Grant said. “We’re all set because people have donated.”
What food banks can use most are items not delivered through government aid, such as diapers and baby essentials.
Cash donations are king. ”Cash donations are the easiest for us to liquidate into food and buy what we need,” Chris Hatch, the director for Hunger Prevention Services for Volunteers of America Western Washington, said.
Food banks are quarantining donations from the public as a coronavirus safety measure before giving them out for distribution.
Volunteers of America spread out food services with a temporary drive-up and go program, but that’s concluding July 31 as the supply of food boxes from the Food Lifeline nonprofit finishes up.
Inside the VOA food bank on Broadway, the drop in clients was notable entering July: It was averaging 160 families a week, down from an average of more than 500 households a week in both May and June.
When the drive up-and-go program ends, people are likely to come back. When they do, they will find the food bank devised an efficient process using menus of food and volunteer shoppers.
The Snohomish food bank is using a similar touchless volunteer shopper program, where members of the Snohomish Lions and Kiwanis clubs pack and carry food boxes to go into car trunks.
The small Maltby Food Bank, which serves about 50 to 60 families, adjusted to serving twice a month instead of weekly, director Natalie Oswald said. “We load them up,” Oswald said.
The Sky Valley Food Bank in Monroe recently introduced an outdoor market system to let people shop for their own food. The Sky Valley Food Bank also provides weekly food pantry programs at Fryelands Elementary and Frank Wagner Elementary which will be open throughout the summer.
Larger-than-normal EBT/SNAP benefits began in March in response to the pandemic. The state asks the federal government for funding to pay for the enlarged benefits on a month-to-month basis, state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) spokeswoman Norah West said. Federal approval is not guaranteed.
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