People look through a box of vegetables at the Lake Stevens Community Food Bank in 2018. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

People look through a box of vegetables at the Lake Stevens Community Food Bank in 2018. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Big push lands Lake Stevens Food Bank a slice of federal aid

When the County Council OK’d use of $56.6 million, it made a change, steering $600,000 to the nonprofit.

EVERETT — A chorus of community support has delivered a financial boost to the Lake Stevens Food Bank that will bolster its ability to serve families in need long into the future.

In emails and comments at public meetings, residents convinced the Snohomish County Council at its Oct. 6 meeting to revise a plan for spending millions in federal pandemic aid so $600,000 could be steered to construction of a new building for the food bank that will serve as a hub for its operations.

“It was a great win for the community,” said Sophina Nunez, a member of the food bank’s board of directors who spearheaded the outreach. “It is so important to the community.”

Nunez, a native of Lake Stevens, said she strongly identifies with those served at multiple distribution sites each week. As a child growing up in Lake Stevens, her mom worked long hours at a Taco Time to provide for her and her brother because their dad, an alcoholic, disappeared for weeks at a time.

“She did everything she could,” Nunez said of her mom. “The Food Bank wasn’t enabling us. The Food Bank allowed us to eat and allowed us to be productive.”

That message resonated with council members when they unanimously approved a plan for distributing $56.6 million of federal aid received through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA.

It will direct dollars into a variety of uses, including expanding broadband to rural areas, assisting small businesses and enterprises owned by people of color, and sustaining the county’s response to the ongoing public health crisis with support for vaccine clinics, testing and contact tracing.

County Executive Dave Somers drew up the blueprint.

“I am grateful for our strong partnership with the Snohomish County Council and their hard work to ensure our county will fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said in a statement. “Now we will move forward as quickly as possible to address some of our most urgent priorities, including housing for our most vulnerable, increased access to behavioral health services, a boost for our local economy, support to our law and justice system, and ensuring recovery reaches every community in Snohomish County, particularly those who have been most impacted. Working together, we will overcome these local and regional challenges.”

Snohomish County is getting $160 million in ARPA funds. Half arrived in May and the other half will come next year.

Earlier this year, the county used a portion, about $16.3 million, with most going to prevent COVID response programs from running out of money. A chunk also went to cover hazard pay premiums for workers and launch of the county’s Office of Recovery and Resilience.

The council, in its meeting last Wednesday, dealt with pretty much the remainder of this year’s allotment.

Of the total, $10 million is earmarked for testing, vaccinations and other costs tied to the continuing public health response.

On the housing front, there’s $6 million. Some of it will be used to ensure people don’t have to move out of motels where they’ve been living with county aid during the pandemic. And some will go toward buying a motel to convert into a shelter-and-services facility.

There’s nearly $5 million to ease child care costs for families and help child care providers retain workers. There’s $2.5 million for behavioral health services, $750,000 for youth and senior services, $1.5 million for small business assistance, $2.5 million for ports and public facilities districts and $5 million for broadband.

There are a couple very specific allotments. For example, $350,000 is going to the Sheriff’s Department Corrections Bureau for a new prisoner transportation vehicle. And the Imagine Children’s Museum will get $500,000 toward planned expansion.

Technically, no funds are specifically directed to the food bank.

Councilman Sam Low, a Lake Stevens resident, offered an amendment to direct $600,000 to the group. Several residents testified at Wednesday’s hearing to take such action. By then, Nunez had chatted with a couple council members. And residents had begun sending emails to them as well with the same plea.

In the end the council tweaked the plan to allot $600,000 for each of the five council districts to support projects within the districts. In Low’s 5th District, those dollars are going to one place.

“We are going to be able to help the Lake Stevens Food Bank, which is huge,” Low said.

Nunez said she was “a little bent” when she didn’t see aid for the food bank in the original spending plan.

“I knew what we do fits perfectly into (ARPA’s) purpose,” she said. “We’re dealing with people who are suffering from the effects of the pandemic.”

Nunez, 46, who is an owner of the Lake Stevens Ankle and Foot Clinic, said the work isn’t over. The $600,000, coupled with earlier fundraising, puts the nonprofit about halfway to the $2.2 million needed to construct the building at 8021 20th St. SE.

There’s no set timeline to pull funding together. Nunez said she hopes construction can begin in April.

“That’s my personal goal and I’m kind of pushy,” she said.

Jerry Cornfield: jcornfield@heraldnet.com; 360-352-8623; Twitter: @dospueblos

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