Excited about being able to provide “whole bags of apples,” volunteer Jodi Nelson watches anxiously as a crowd grows for the start of the VOA’s popup food bank, held Tuesday at 805 W. Casino Rd. in Everett. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Excited about being able to provide “whole bags of apples,” volunteer Jodi Nelson watches anxiously as a crowd grows for the start of the VOA’s popup food bank, held Tuesday at 805 W. Casino Rd. in Everett. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Pop-up food banks bring free food to the hungry

People in need now have access to goods closer to their homes.

EVERETT — Off and on for years, Jodi Nelson was homeless.

“But I learned a lot from that,” said Nelson, 60. “I learned to show my heart to everybody else now.”

Nelson is both a customer and a volunteer at the pop-up food bank in south Everett. In that way, she is like many of the people who distribute food — apples, zucchini, potatoes, canned veggies, meat, sweets — at Bible Baptist Church on West Casino Road.

For two years she has lived in a home down the street from the largest and longest-running pop-up food bank on the west side of the Snohomish River, serving an average of 670 people per month, according to Volunteers of America Western Washington.

On Tuesdays, about a half-dozen pallets of food are hauled across town from a warehouse in north Everett to the church on Casino.

The pop-ups bring free food to people who need help, instead of requiring them to schlep groceries across bus lines from a single building in north Everett. That’s huge for seniors with mobility problems, families with kids, and people without a car or gas money.

There’s no shortage of need in Snohomish County.

A second pop-up gets 390 visitors per month on Thursdays at Advent Lutheran Church on 132nd Street SE in Mill Creek. A third pop-up opened this year at the First Baptist Church on Wetmore Avenue, bringing food closer to 560 people a month. The Wetmore location’s clientele has doubled since it opened in February, said J. T. Nelson, a food bank supervisor who manages the pop-ups.

Volunteers of America is looking to open pop-ups in more communities around Snohomish County.

“We’re having very, very early conversations,” said Sarah Gordon, the agency’s interim senior director of hunger prevention. “We want to get analytical about our research, looking at food deserts and where our clientele is coming from.”

This week about 50 people at a time waited in line in south Everett, taking a number like in a deli. In one corner of the crowded room a woman shouted numbers: “Fifty-seven! Fifty-seven? Fifty-eight!”

Customers wheeled carts loaded with bread, vegetables, juice, pork, chicken and pastries around the perimeter of folding tables stocked with cans and boxes of food.

Some volunteers, like Nelson, started out as clients and wanted to give back.

Others, like Leslie Straub, 74, learned about the pop-up because she attends the Baptist church. She has staffed the dessert table since it opened. She has seen the number of customers grow tremendously.

“Word gets around,” Straub said. “More and more people are coming.”

Tamia Mangum, a mother of four children who are mostly grown, visited the food bank on Broadway for three years, exactly as long as the Casino Road location has been around. She recently moved, and until last month she didn’t know she was now living two blocks from the pop-up.

She’s grateful.

“More and more every day, people need help,” she said. “You never know. You could be up today and down tomorrow.”

To learn more about how to volunteer, how to donate, or when you can shop at the food bank, go to voaww.org/foodbank.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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