10,000 a month.
“We have seen a lot of people who have
never had to use the food bank before in their lives, who never thought they would have to use it,” said executive director Sam Osborne. “Suddenly just making ends meet is impossible. You don’t want to lose your house or your car, but when you pay that, what is left for groceries? That is why food banks are here.”
The Rainier Valley Food Bank (rvfb.org)has a large service area, Osborne said, and it does not turn anyone away. In fact, there are no restrictions such as ZIP codes. He said they get people from Bellevue, Kent and Federal Way because they are open on Saturdays, when most food banks are closed.
But what happened on Nov. 18 astounded everyone.
Thieves broke into the outdoor storage facility and “cleaned out several hundreds of pounds of potatoes and onions and hundreds and hundreds of can goods.”
The robbers used rolling carts on wheels and made many trips, according to a witness who failed to call police to report what he was watching, Osborne said.
“The community itself came together in a powerful way, and the outpouring of generosity and compassion we saw in the week that followed was unlike anything I have witnessed in my life. It was absolutely amazing,” Osborne said. “Everything from 4-year-old kids coming in with their piggy banks after they heard the story on the radio, to Wal-Mart calling me and saying, ‘We’d like to give you $10,000 worth of groceries. What do you need?’ “Everything in between — people coming in with carloads and van loads of food, checks, cash. It was just amazing.”
The big anchor for nearly every food bank in the state is Northwest Harvest (www.northwestharvest.org),headquartered in downtown Seattle. It is a statewide organization with giant warehouses in the Kent Valley, in Yakima and a new facility in Spokane.
“We are seeing more people than we ever have before, and I have been doing this for 20 years,” said Shelley Rotondo. “We’ve seen about a 13-percent increase, and that is an increase on a big number when you look at the network we serve. On average, the 300 hunger programs used to have about a half a million visits a month; now we are seeing close to 600,000 a month.”
Northwest Harvest also has a food bank of its own in Downtown Seattle — “probably the busiest one in the state,” Rotondo said.
“At our food bank, we broke all records,” she said. “The Monday of Thanksgiving week, we had 2,714 people who came in on one day.”
She said last year the organization secured more than 24 million pounds of food for distribution.
“That was 33 percent more food than we secured the year before,” Rotondo said. “Now we are into the first part of our next year, and we are bringing in that much or more food.”
Northwest Harvest does not draw any lines to keep people from getting food.
“For over 40 years, if somebody stands in line and all we are giving them is food, we are not going to make them live in our neighborhood or show proof of need. Nobody is going to travel [to a food bank] unless they need the food.”
She said Northwest Harvest ships food weekly, free of charge, to hundreds of food banks.
“I am planning on Northwest Harvest having to respond at this high level and maybe even a higher level for at least another 18 months,” Rotondo said. “People are going to have to start getting jobs in order to stop coming to us, and there is talk about this being a jobless recovery.”
During November and December many community groups do food drives, “which are incredibly important to us,” she said, because more than half of the annual funds for food banks and Northwest Harvest come in during those two months.
“We buy more food than any other hunger-response group in the state,” Rotondo said. “We have great buying power, and we complement the donated food with purchased food; it helps us make sure our food is nutritious.”
Arthur Lee is the executive director of the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County, (EmergencyFeeding.org))not a traditional food bank in that it puts together 15 diff erent “food packs” to provide the correct balance for people, including those with special dietary needs.
For example, the program distributes such choices as “no-cook, no-refrigeration foods for the homeless; a snack pack for homeless teens; culturally sensitive Asian, East African and Latino boxes; heart-healthy, low-sodium, diabetic-friendly, low-sugar, high-protein, liquid; and vegan; infant formula and baby foods.”
Food is readily available seven days a week through a network of more than 130 faith communities, schools, food banks, health clinics and social service agencies” in the city and the county, the website states.
Lee said the current financial crisis has driven up the number of food bags it has delivered to people in the past year by 55 percent — from less than 16,000 in 2007 to more than 22,000 in just the first 10 months of 2009.
People can find out how to donate money or items needed for the program at the organization’s website: www.emergencyfeeding.org.
Patricia Sobeck is the executive director of Queen Anne Helpline (queenannehelpline.org),which helps seniors and those in need with paying rent or utility bills but also maintains a pantry with emergency food items.
“We call ourselves a pantry because there isn’t any food bank on Queen Anne or Magnolia,” Sobeck said.
She said she recently had many rental and utility requests, including one for $1,000 for rent, another for $500 and two or three requests for help with utilities.
The City of Seattle has a program to help the elderly and poor with their electric bills, but Sobeck noted that the city won’t help until part of the outstanding bill is paid, so the Helpline or another agency needs to help with that basic amount so they can get the city aid, she explained. She said the Helpline has a number of seniors who don’t qualify for the reduced City Light rates.
“They will turn it off if you don’t pay part of the bill, and usually half of that bill has to be paid,” Sobeck said.
Cheryl Cobbs, executive director Solid Ground, formerly the Fremont Public Association (solid-ground.org)said the agency operates 28 diff erent programs to assist and advance the cause of low-income people, primarily housing -related issues for the homeless and those facing problems paying their mortgages and assisting with landlord-tenant matters. It is headquartered in Wallingford, but it off ers services King County-wide.
“We are seeing more of a demand in many of our services — more than we can meet,” Cobbs said. “One of the things we are seeing currently is there are a lot of folks out there who were formerly middle -income folks who have lost their jobs and who have never had to use social services before and who are now having to.
“We do provide rental and mortgage assistance both through grants and loans. We negotiated with lenders to try to develop repayment plans for folks who have fallen behind in their mortgages,” she said of Solid Ground’s services. “One of the things about people having trouble with their mortgages is that they don’t get assistance quickly enough and they end up losing their homes just because they don’t know where to go. Sometimes we have to tell them that we can’t help.”