Food banks’ needs increase; donations down

Cupboards aren’t bare, but despite news of an economic recovery local food banks see growing need.

Hams and turkeys, canned tuna and fruits, and especially cash donations are on food bank wish lists this holiday season.

“You can write about economic recovery, but at the street level we’re not seeing it,” said Neil Watkins, executive director of the Sky Valley Food Bank. “People came into the recession with a job and savings. They’re both gone.”

The food bank in Monroe is a nonprofit corporation helped by about 70 volunteers. In October 2011, Watkins said, the Sky Valley Food Bank distributed 63,000 pounds of food, compared with 70,000 pounds this October. While 56,000 pounds of food were donated last October, this year that was down to 50,000 pounds.

Use of the Sky Valley Food Bank last month was up 14 percent over the past year, he said.

It’s a similar story at the Marysville Community Food Bank, which is supported by Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest.

“Our numbers are up 8 percent from last year, and our financial donations and food donations are down about 2 percent,” said JoAnn Sewell, volunteer coordinator at the Marysville facility.

Last month, Sewell said, the Marysville Community Food Bank served 1,240 families, or 3,788 individuals. In the comparable period a year ago, it was 975 households and 2,989 individuals.

“People are running out of their savings,” Sewell said. “Do I make a house or car payment, or do I buy food? That’s why we’re here.”

LeAnn Geiger is director of food bank services for Volunteers of America Western Washington, which runs food banks in Everett, Mill Creek, Sultan and Seattle’s Greenwood area. The agency also oversees the 19-member Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition, which includes VOA food banks and those run by other organizations.

“We definitely are seeing the need,” Geiger said. Providing for holiday meals is tough for families already struggling to meet basic needs.

The VOA, too, has seen client numbers rise. This October, Geiger said, 5,199 people from 2,367 households were served at the Everett Food Bank. That’s up from October 2011, when 4,802 individuals from 2,234 households used the food bank.

Donations have held steady, Geiger said, with the exception of meat products and cash gifts.

“We haven’t received a lot of meats,” Geiger said, adding that some clients got no turkey, ham or other meat in November.

“We have done a purchase order for hams, and will start distributing those in December,” Geiger said.

At the Sky Valley Food Bank, Watkins said clients include elderly people and many families. “We’re open Monday nights for those who work during the week. What we see are lots of people making minimum wage, the working poor. Families come in with kids,” he said.

The Sky Valley Food Bank’s 4,872 client count for October doesn’t mean that many are individuals. “Most are there four or five times in a month,” he said.

While demand is up, food bank officials are grateful for their communites’ generosity. Support comes from stores, individuals, and at this time of year from schools, churches and other groups.

“Most of our protein and produce come from grocery stores,” Watkins said. “We have a great group of donors who mostly donate money. That allows us to exercise our buying power.”

At Everett’s Cascade High School, students are in the midst of an annual food drive that will wrap up Dec. 11 with a big “shopping day” in the gym. Students who gather food during “canning” collections at stores will deliver food to 160 families in need, with extra food going to local agencies.

“This is our 51st year,” said Roberta Hasstedt, Cascade’s ASB adviser. She said one difficulty is getting approval from some supermarket corporations for students to seek donations outside stores. “We pride ourselves that the food stays with local families,” she said.

In years past, the Cascade effort has collected more than 80,000 pounds of food. It’s one of many holiday efforts going on all over Snohomish County. A recent community food drive in Marysville was a blessing for the food bank there.

“We asked and we received. Marysville is absolutely wonderful,” Sewell said. “Most of the grocery stores had donation barrels. The schools are absolutely fantastic.”

At the VOA, Geiger said holiday donations keep shelves stocked into February. “By March, the cupboard is bare,” she said. The annual Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger food drive each May helps food banks restock.

“We wish people would realize hunger is a year-round problem, not just during the holidays,” Sewell said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Food banks

Here are major local food banks. To find all facilities in Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition, go to http://

Arlington Community Food Bank: 18810 59th Drive NE. Client services 6-7 p.m. Tuesdays, 1-2 p.m. Fridays. 360-435-1631.

Edmonds Food Bank: United Methodist Church, 828 Caspers St. Client services 9:30 a.m.-noon Tuesdays. 425-778-5833.

Everett Food Bank (Volunteers of America): 1230 Broadway. Client services 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. third Saturday of month. 425-259-3191.

Lynnwood Food Bank: 5320 176th St. SW. Client services 2-6:30 Wednesdays. 425-745-1635.

Marysville Community Food Bank: 4150 88th St. NE. Client services 9-11 a.m. Mondays (seniors and disabled people), 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays, 9-11 a.m. Fridays. 360-658-1054.

Mill Creek Food Bank (Volunteers of America): In portable No. 9 at north edge of Heatherwood Middle School, 1419 Trillium Blvd. SE. Client services 5-7 p.m. Thursdays. 425-259-3191.

Mukilteo Food Bank: Mukilteo Presbyterian Church, 4514 84th St. SW. Client services 9-10:30 a.m. second and fourth Tuesdays, 3:30-5 p.m. Mondays before each open Tuesday.

Sky Valley Food Bank: 233 Sky River Parkway, Monroe. Client services 9-11:30 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 6-7 p.m. Mondays. 360-794-7959.

Sultan Food Bank (Volunteers of America): 703 First St. Client services 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays, 9:30 a.m.-noon Fridays. 360-793-2400.

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