News

Op-Ed: Seattle Needs to Fully Fund our Food Banks

Will eggs or milk make it into the shopping cart this week? Is there enough room in the budget this month to cover the increased cost of gas? We are well aware that Americans are asking themselves these questions every day. What some might not realize, is that food bank managers and directors must ask themselves these same questions as they order food for their programs. Including those right here in Seattle. As a result of inflation, food banks have been forced to make painful decisions such as cutting back on food at a time when families need support the most.

We, as members of the Seattle Food Committee, know this firsthand. Our Committee is a coalition of 27 Seattle-based food banks that work together to share resources, procure nutritious food, and educate our community to strengthen our emergency food system and end hunger in our region. As food bank operators we have been forced to be as resourceful as possible over the last 2 ½ years as we served record numbers of people during the pandemic. Some of our coalition agencies have seen visits to their food banks double and even quadruple.

Our food bank network has shown great resilience, as has the community we serve, while the effects of the pandemic are still deeply felt. Unfortunately, the impacts of inflation are putting increased strain on an emergency food system in Seattle that has already been stretched to its limit.

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Inflation has hit the country hard, and Seattle has not been spared. This year the Seattle area saw an inflation rate of 9%. More troubling, inflation has not hit equally across consumer goods. Foods that are staples of healthy diets have seen costs rise well beyond the 10% mark. For example, our member agencies are reporting a doubling in cost of both milk and eggs.

What does this look like in real terms? It’s a family of four not being able to afford a carton of eggs at the store with their limited SNAP benefits. It’s that same family going to their local food bank to learn that the food bank couldn’t order eggs for the week either and the hope that next week they can.

It’s a homebound adult attending a nutrition class, and afterward feeling the immense frustration that their SNAP benefits are no longer enough for them to purchase the foods they were advised to buy and that their food bank deliveries have gotten smaller.

Deciding how to prioritize a stretched budget is not an easy task for an individual, family, or organization to make. For every agency in our committee the choice to reduce the amount of food available is a last resort. For this reason, we do everything within our power to prevent our guests’ needs from going unmet, but we must ask ourselves: is this sustainable?

Seattle’s emergency food system, and many other social services, are facing a budget crisis as a result of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s proposal to cap human services contracts at a 4% increase – out of step with the law he helped pass as a councilmember. By not following the law, food banks and human services organizations are being handed a cut and will likely have to reduce services as a result. We need support to ensure we can keep pace with the increased costs of providing critical services to our community, and in the form of investments that build the capacity of our food system to equitably address this increased need in our community. We call on the City to follow the budget recommendations put forth by the Seattle Human Services Coalition and to have our City contracts reflect the true level of inflation.

The funds our agencies receive from the City allow many of us to pay for our small staff. Our staff who, as essential workers, kept food banks open during the height of pandemic lockdowns. The funds also allow our agencies to purchase the nutritious, culturally relevant food that can be the only source of food for some households.

We are all stronger when everyone in our community has access to healthy food. As community members, you can take action by donating and volunteering with your local food bank, as well as by letting your city councilmember know that it is critical to pass a city budget that reflects the true level of inflation. Together, let’s make sure everyone has access to milk, eggs, and healthy produce throughout the year.

 

FamilyWorks Mobile Food Pantry

In the spring of 2021, FamilyWorks rolled out their Mobile Food Pantry program to address widening access barriers. By bringing both food and essential resources like hygiene supplies, diapers and benefit sign-ups, the Mobile Pantry takes a holistic approach to address basic needs and take steps toward longer-term stability. The Mobile Pantry is also dedicated to providing culturally-responsive and diet-specific options catered to each location.
For more information on the Mobile Pantry, please reach out to Tobey Solomon-Auger 206-694-6722 or tobeys@familyworksseattle.org.

National Guard

A Salute to the National Guard

I was skeptical when the National Guard first showed up at our food bank in March of 2020. With the pandemic just beginning, they had come to help the most vulnerable in our city. At the time, I held a generally dim view of the military. 

Our goal at Byrd Barr is to change lives. We work to feed our communities. We make sure that anyone who knocks at our doors has access to healthy, delicious, culturally appropriate foods with little to no barriers. How was this going to work? How would we find common ground with the National Guard when our values appeared to be in direct conflict? 

However, working together, side by side at our organization, we learned a fundamental and impactful lesson about the power of collaboration and keeping an open mind. In fact, we would not have been able to meet the needs of our community without the extraordinary and dedicated help of our Guardsmen.

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And in turn, they also learned from us. Most of the Guardsmen I met had never been to a food bank. They had never heard the words “food insecurity” or “food justice” or seen the long lines that sometimes stretched around corners, or the faces of people who utilize our service.

Several guardsmen told me they regarded this experience as the most extraordinary mission they had ever undertaken. I realized that our Guardsmen wanted to help people. The bonds between us formed quickly. The depth of their commitment became clear to me one day when I realized the food bank was being sustained almost entirely by the National Guard. As the pandemic became more of a reality and the number of our clients continued to rise, we met their needs thanks primarily to Guardsmen. When our community had to quarantine for months, the Guardsmen came to the front lines to make sure people who needed our services received it. It was an extraordinary experience to witness. 

In the summer of 2020, when the BLM movement swept across Seattle, the National Guard’s mission split; some continued to work with us, while others went to the protests. I became concerned. The uniform they signed up to wear had become a target in Seattle. The same folks that were unpacking and sorting thousands of pounds of food for our community was also holding a forceful line against protesters in our city. How were we supposed to reconcile these seeming contradictions? 

I found myself in a unique position to ask those questions to the Guardsmen I had spent the last few months with. In their answers I found something with them that I suspect most of humanity believes. It’s a feeling that we all share that somehow gets lost in our differences. We all want a peaceful, healthy life. We all want access to the things that make us feel human. We all want to be warm and nourished so that we can pursue those fruits of being alive.

Despite our differences, something changed when we decided to work together to serve our community. Thank you to all the Guardsmen who came to the front line with us. The National Guard distributed millions of pounds of food to a nation of people in the throes of the pandemic. The Guardsmen who showed up every day, we salute you and your service.

The viewpoints expressed in this article represent the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the viewpoint of Seattle Food Committee.

National Guard

Food for Schools

Food for Schools was created out of a Backpack Summit hosted by the Seattle Food Committee in September 2013, where hunger relief organizations convened to address the problem of childhood hunger. The group formally convened in November 2013 and meets once a month to discuss best practices, share resources, and develop standards for weekend hunger relief efforts for children in Seattle. The group brings together over 10 different organizations to collectively work on ending childhood hunger.  Mostly food banks, one sole agency, and one meal program, come together and work collaboratively to benefit us all. Anyone is welcome at our meetings, whether it’s just to come learn, or to share a program. We’d love to have you. 

The McKinney Vento Federal Act uses the definition “individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence” to identify homeless students within the district.  We have seen a higher need since the start of the pandemic. We define weekend hunger bags as child friendly, easy to cook food for a child to feed themselves. With 2 full days of food, a minimum of 6 meals, from 3 food groups.  They are meant to support the individual student, but we know the bags are shared with other family members.

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Due to school closures in response to Covid-19, we had to pivot our operations from delivering to school partners to delivering 4,000 bags to the Seattle School District offices, and their 40 meal sites. We are now back to pre-pandemic school partnerships and independent distribution.  All schools in Seattle are paired with one of the Food for Schools agencies, and several agencies are now serving beyond Seattle Public Schools and into multiple school districts and some private schools.

A big challenge of the pandemic has been the supply chain. For a lot of us, actually getting the food has been the hardest part.  One of our biggest providers stopped stocking our backpack items altogether.  Even the big distributors have been out of stock of a lot of our regular bag items, making it difficult to create healthy nutritious bags.  We have had to be creative in the seeking of new items, finding new distributors, and developing alternative menus, that still meet the needs of the students we support.

But through it all, Food for Schools has come together, supported each other, shared resources and ideas, always with the thought of providing the best bags possible to the most students, to help them fill their bellies one weekend at a time!

To learn more about the Food for Schools, attend a meeting, or donate, please reach out to Nichelle Hilton at nichelle@backpackbrigade.org