Food banks continue to meet needs despite difficulties

Leslie Kelly special for the leader

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect local food banks, according to Shirley Moss. Moss, manager of the Port Townsend Food Bank, has seen the number of customers dwindle during the height of the pandemic, only to slowly rise again.

“When the pandemic started, we were helping between 240 and 260 families and 90 seniors every week,” Moss said.

“But the numbers dropped considerably during the early days of the pandemic.”

Moss said the government was issuing more food stamps and families using the food bank were using the food stamps and shopping for themselves at local grocery stores.

“We operate a little differently during the pandemic,” he said. “We bagged food and took it to the car for our customers. When I talked to the families who used the food bank, they said they didn’t like not being able to choose their own food.

“And with more food stamps, they chose to shop at grocery stores instead of going to the food bank.”

But in June 2021, once vaccines became available and COVID numbers dropped, the Port Townsend Food Bank began allowing customers to shop at the food bank again.

“Our numbers went back up, but not drastically because people kept getting more food stamps,” Moss said.

In the last three weeks, 12, 20 and 23 families have searched for food, and 60, 71 and 54 older people have gone to the food bank.

“We really hope to see our numbers continue to go up,” Moss said. “With the cost of gas, groceries and everything else going up, and food stamps going down, families will need our help again.”

Moss said the food bank now offers shopping for seniors on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. so they can take more time choosing their groceries.

“We heard from them that they felt rushed when shopping with families with children,” he said. “And we are still looking for more seniors to come.”

Most of the food inventory held by the Port Townsend Food Bank comes from the Food Lifeline warehouse in Seattle. But even that is still affected by the pandemic.

“We used to have three food pages to choose from,” Moss said. “Lately it’s just been a page.”

The lack of inventory is partly due to supply chain issues and partly to the fact that grocery stores are ordering less from manufacturers and therefore there is less “excess” to donate to Food Lifeline and, ultimately to food banks throughout western Washington. .

“Stores are picking up on orders, so there aren’t a lot of leftovers,” he said. “We still get food from food drives and local sources, but the variety has changed.”

Fresh eggs are one item the food bank hasn’t had for some time, he said. “And we are always in need of canned protein; items like peanut butter and tuna.”

She said the bank just received the donated food from the WAVE food drive and there was only one jar of peanut butter.

Food drives supplement other donations, and the four food banks in Jefferson County split donations from the WAVE and Letter Carriers drives, the two main drives each year.

One big addition to the county’s food banks in the last year are two new refrigerated trucks, for a total of three.

“It’s been wonderful because we can go to Costco and Walmart in Sequim to buy food and not worry about it going bad or melting before we go home,” she said. “We really needed them.”

A future need that is expected to be completed this coming year is a new headquarters for the Quilcene Food Bank. They currently share space with the community center, but a new building is under construction.

Moss has been running the Port Townsend Food Bank for 10 years and has been a volunteer at the bank since 1998. It is a volunteer food bank and no one, including Moss, is paid.

“We have the most incredible volunteers,” he said. “Many of them are retired from the health professions or have been teachers. They are so stellar and care so much about our customers.”

They do various jobs including “bread runs” to collect bread from a local Safeway, filling the shelves at the food pantry with what has been donated, or helping customers check in and complete their purchases.

For Moss, it’s a rewarding job.

“When I go places, occasionally someone will come up to me and tell me what the food bank has meant to them,” she said. “I’ve been told ‘thank you’ by people who said they had to use the food bank because they lost their job and didn’t work for a while.”

And because the bank participates in a national program called Cake for Kids, they can offer families the opportunity to order birthday cakes for their children, made especially for them.

“They can choose the flavor, what kind of decorations they want and we can even accommodate special dietary needs.

“The volunteers make the cakes as ordered. We just made a cake for a 7 year old who wanted a pirate or nautical theme and it was gluten free. These kids can have these beautiful birthday cakes that their parents can’t afford to make.”

What the food bank needs most are donations of food or money. You can use the money to buy groceries at very little cost through Food Lifeline. And schools often sponsor food drives to replenish the food bank throughout the year.

****

Jefferson County has four food banks: Tri-Area, Quilcene, Brinnon, and Port Townsend. Together they form the Jefferson County Food Bank Association. They share ideas and work to end food insecurity in the county. Financial or food donations can be made at any of them, or on the website, JeffersonCountyFoodBanks.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *