Food banks crunched as economy
Martina Povolo photo
Snohomish Community Food Bank volunteer Kathy Evans stands by the bread stocks of the food bank in October.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY — While visitors have increased at the Sky Valley Food Bank in Monroe, funding hasn't.
At an Oct. 4 Monroe City Council meeting, Matthew Campbell, executive director of the food bank said that their clientele almost doubled from 2,500 visitors in August 2020 to 4,100 visitors in August 2022.
“When you increase the (number of) clients but you decrease the food, that's not a good combination. So, we're definitely spending more money on food than we budgeted,” Campbell said.
Campbell emphasized how community support has been crucial to helping serve the increased number of people coming to the food bank.
“The funding from our private individual donors — churches and schools and just private citizens — those donations have been fantastic,” Campbell said. “People continue to respond to us. Every time, we try not to put out cries for help very often because everybody's stressed, everybody. The cost of food is up for everybody, but when we do ask for help, the community always responds.”
During COVID-19, the state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave temporary assistance.
“Now, we're probably seeing half of what we were seeing before,” Campbell said.
Apart from diminishing temporary funds, Campbell said that inflation is causing the cost of food to rise, making it even more difficult to get resources for the food bank. Campbell explains how a food item that used to cost him $1.25 from his vendors before the pandemic is now costing him $3.
The Everett Food Bank has seen a 138% increase in visitors to the food bank between April and June of this year. This has caused the food bank on north Broadway to begin to ration out its meals.
“Our food bank in Everett used to be able to serve clients every week,” Maca Ferguson, marketing and communications director for Volunteers of America Western Washington which runs this food bank said. “Now we’ve, unfortunately, had to limit services to every other week, because the supply is starting to dwindle versus demand.”
Volunteers of America helps collect and distribute resources around Western Washington. Their food distribution across the county increased from 3.6 million pounds of food annually in 2020 to 7.9 million pounds this year, according to Ferguson.
“We have definitely seen far more people coming to the food bank, and these are not just homeless clients or single-income clients,” Ferguson said. “Some of these families are double-income families that are still being stretched beyond their means because of the rise in inflation, because of the residual effects of COVID, and partly on job outlook. They're all families just really struggling to make ends meet.”
At other food banks, the increase in visitors isn’t the only thing that has changed.
“(Our clientele) has gone up. It hasn’t doubled, but it's changed,” Natalie Oswald, director of the Maltby Food Bank, said. “We'll have somebody maybe for three months and then we don't see them again. So we've gotten a lot more fluctuation of people coming and going."
The Snohomish Community Food Bank is also seeing more people return. On Tuesdays, when the Snohomish food bank used to serve 65 clients in the peak months of COVID-19, now they’re serving 94.
“We were serving 220 per week prior to COVID. COVID hit and it dropped right down to about 130,” its director Elizabeth Durand said. “We started calling clients and asking, ‘You know we are still open, right?’ And they’d go ‘Yes, but I'm getting so much on my unemployment and stimulus checks that I don't need to come in.’ Now that the economy is changing, gas is going up, the stimulus checks are done, we're starting to go back up.”
With the holidays around the corner, food banks are gearing up to feed as many families as possible, but that might not be possible without the support of the community.
“I'm full-time and we have two part-time paid staff that work directly for Sky Valley Food Bank, so it's supplemented with literally dozens of volunteers every week coming in here,” Campbell said. “We can't survive without that. Both the funds and the food that our private folks bring in, no, we couldn't survive without that.”
How to give
To support the Snohomish Community Food Bank, mail money donations to P.O. Box 1364, Snohomish, WA 98291 or online at www.snohomishfoodbank.org. Drop-offs are taken 9 a.m. to noon weekdays, and Tuesdays 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. at 1330 Ferguson Park Road. Its number is 360-568-7993.
To support the Sky Valley Food Bank via www.svfoodbank.org or by mailing a check to P.O. Box 724, Monroe, WA, 98272. Non-perishable food can be left in a bin near the Boys & Girls Club. Its number is 360-794-7959.
To support the VOA, visit www.voaww.org or drop off to the main Everett Food Bank at 1230 Broadway.
To support the Maltby Food Bank, it takes online donations at www.maltbyfoodbank.org or checks at 21104 86th Ave SE, Snohomish, Washington, 98296. Non-perishable food can go in the donation barrel at the same address.
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