Nourishing the community: local food banks tackle rising needs

Nourishing the community: local food banks tackle rising needs
By mattc

Ballard Food Bank’s community market is free of cost for anyone living in Seattle. The shelves are stocked with staples like meat and vegetables, hygiene items like toothpaste and tampons, and dog and cat food. Photo: Alan Alabastro, Alabastro Photography

By Bill Thorness

The stress on our neighbors in need has risen and continues to build. The dedicated food banks of Northwest Seattle, large and small, are filled with people extending a cornucopia with one hand while comforting with the other.

Offering food and related services are Ballard Food Bank, two locations of FamilyWorks in Wallingford and on Aurora in Greenwood, the Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church, North Helpline in Bitter Lake, and The Giving Room in Licton Springs.

“We used to average, before COVID, about 3,000 visits and deliveries a month,” says Jen Musia, executive director of Ballard Food Bank. “Now we’re upwards of 6,000 visits and deliveries a month.”

From 2019 to 2021, FamilyWorks saw client households climb from 2,191 to 3,242, says Kirby Lochner, FamilyWorks communications coordinator. “That … showed clearly how needs rose in the community.”

And at The Giving Room, which began in its current form in December, each Monday about 50 people are being served, says co-director Peter Orr. Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church also serves about 50 families a week.

Food banks and their food insecure clients together grapple with the issues at the top of the news. “The economics of this city make it more difficult to afford food, housing, and gas prices,” Jen says. “We’re seeing so many more people are affected by inflation.”

Ballard Food Bank also has experienced shortages and rising prices. “We’ve increased our food budget drastically.”

Supply chain problems and higher delivery minimums raise costs too, explains Kirby. Sometimes, pallets of food from suppliers arrive with a list of items they weren’t able to fill. Stress piles up on stress. So, how do food banks respond? Well, by innovating.

Ballard Food Bank Resource HubThe Ballard Food Bank Community Resource Hub. Photo: Alan Alabastro, Alabastro Photography

Hubs, Trucks and Texts

Ballard Food Bank completed a long-planned move into their own building last October. With it came a larger shopping area, a “resource hub” for clients that includes 16 partner organizations and the Kindness Café, where people can simply get a free meal. Community partners, grocery stores, and other food donors are vital to offering such services.

“People can come in, relax, and feel like they’re part of a community,” says Jen. There’s hot soup, grilled sandwiches, and coffee in partnership with Black Coffee Northwest.

At FamilyWorks, two Community Connector staffers “bridge the gap” with their hub of a half-dozen service providers to help with access to resources, says Kirby. Such agencies see their reach extended greatly by the food bank connection.

One vital partner to FamilyWorks is the Salvation Army, which operates the Greenwood Food Bank. FamilyWorks provides the food and they handle everything else.

But FamilyWorks went beyond their two locations and powered up a colorful green truck with refrigerators, freezers, and shelves of staples. They distribute at places like a tiny home village, a community center, and a middle school.

FamilyWorks Mobile Food Pantry with staffFamilyWorks employees distribute fresh groceries and much-needed resources (such as diapers, household items, and hygiene supplies) through the Mobile Food Pantry in North Seattle. Photo: Kirby Lochner

Some clients are also using FamilyWork’s new “Text to Go” service so they can just stop by and quickly pick-up a grocery box. The English-based service will be available soon in Spanish and simplified Chinese.

The Giving Room folks reimagined how to use their site’s former café space during COVID. Now it’s a “conversational zone with food on the side,” says Peter. While people wait to shop, “they fill out a menu so we can pack their frozen and refrigerated items for them,” he says.

Something as simple as a chat can fuel a small neighbor-to-neighbor service like The Giving Room, Peter says. “Now we know a little bit more about what’s going on in their lives.”

How to Get Food, Services

If you or someone you know needs food, you will be warmly welcomed at a food bank. They generally do not require you to live in their area in order to shop and get food. However, services like home delivery or financial assistance are geographic specific. Just register at the entrance and wait for a turn to pick up food.

Food banks operate differently based on their space. Some offer shopping while others provide a pre-packed bag or box of groceries. Most have a “no-cook” option for people who don’t have access to a kitchen. Some offer pet food, hygiene items, and other necessities.

The Ballard Food Bank Kindness Cafe kitchenAnthony Anderson, the Director of Operations at Ballard Food Bank, preps meals for the Kindness Café. One can always stop by for a delicious sandwich and some soup! Photo: Alan Alabastro, Alabastro Photography

Each food bank has open hours that are listed on their website; see the list at the end of this article for addresses and days they are currently open.

How to Help

Volunteers are the lifeblood of these food banks, picking up grocery store donations, stocking the shelves, working with clients, and making deliveries.

Grow extra produce or buy an extra bag of staples at the store and drop those off at the food bank. Of course, continue the financial support that keeps the food bank staff so grateful to their generous community.

Join this year’s Hunger Goblin’ Trick or Treat & Food Drive on Sat, Oct. 29 to celebrate Halloween with the family and give healthy, non-perishable food items to FamilyWorks and the PNA Hot Meal Program.

Colorful cartoon of the Hunger Goblin with two trick or treaters and canned food.

Eight PhinneyWood businesses are hosting food drive donation bins for FamilyWorks and the PNA Hot Meal Program during the Hunger Goblin’ Trick or Treat & Food Drive.

Beyond those everyday actions, advocate. Jen expects the City of Seattle budget to be tight this year and worries about cuts to human services.

Follow the federal Farm Bill debate too, Jen advises. “Being able to access healthy produce through the commodities program” is a food bank essential.

FamilyWorks has representatives on the Seattle Food Committee, which Kirby says is “working collectively to address the bigger problems we’re seeing, in economic and social systems.”

Whatever we can do for our neighbors in need will strengthen everyone in our community, and it takes all of us to help that food bank door swing open so a client can hear, as Jen Musia says, “Welcome! Come on in and we’ll get you started shopping.”

Northwest Seattle Food Banks

Ballard Food Bank, 1400 NW Leary Way, is open Monday through Thursday

Bitter Lake Food Bank, 13000 Linden Avenue N., is open Saturdays

9501 Greenwood Avenue N, is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays

1501 N 45th Street, is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays

The Giving Room, 10510 Stone Avenue N, is open Mondays

Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church, 7500 Greenwood Avenue N, is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays