Mike Delaney gathers foods stuffs for clients at the Everett Food Bank on Dec. 1. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Mike Delaney gathers foods stuffs for clients at the Everett Food Bank on Dec. 1. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Volunteers of America distributes nearly 8M lbs of food

The nonprofit feeds more than double the people it did pre-COVID.

EVERETT — Two weeks before Volunteers of America hosted its first drive-through food pantry in spring 2020, many of its clients were wearing suits to the office. The need for food assistance doubled, seemingly overnight.

Recently, Volunteers of America opened a massive food distribution center in Arlington to meet the growing need for food assistance. The nonprofit feeds as many as 5,000 people every month in Snohomish County — more than twice the number it did before the pandemic began.

“What COVID did is it exposed all of the gaps,” said Chris Hatch, senior director of Hunger Prevention Services at Volunteers of America Western Washington.

The nonprofit probably outgrew its Everett warehouse 10 years ago, Hatch said, but the community’s immediate and massive need for food brought on by the pandemic made that fact impossible to ignore. Volunteers of America went from distributing 3.7 million pounds of food the year before the virus took hold to nearly 8 million pounds the first year of the pandemic.

When it became clear the nonprofit’s small Everett warehouse wouldn’t cut it, Hatch rented an old Haggen grocery store in Arlington. Meanwhile, Hatch said, the Washington State Department of Agriculture created extra food reserves across the state.

“Having that extra capacity in a time of need allowed us to help,” Hatch said. “It wasn’t just supporting Snohomish County, it was supporting Washington state.”

VOA has since moved into its new Arlington site, which at more than 57,000-square-feet, is about seven times larger than the original Everett site.

COVID, Hatch said, put a microscope on systemic shortcomings.

Marry J. Gentry bags grapes for distribution at the Everett Food Bank on Dec. 1. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Marry J. Gentry bags grapes for distribution at the Everett Food Bank on Dec. 1. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“There needed to be more funding to help every single one of us increase our capacity and buy equipment, buy forklifts, buy refrigerators and freezers that were desperately needed,” Hatch said.

Volunteers of America Chief Development Officer Kristi Myers said food assistance was by far the most pressing need when the pandemic began.

“People were losing jobs,” Myers said. “There were people for the first time needing food assistance, who had never been to a food bank. It was a whole new clientele of people needing support.”

The nonprofit turned its drive-through food pantries into one-stop shops for people to access other aid, including vaccines and rental assistance. Roughly 800 cars attended two of the nonprofit’s November drive-thrus.

Chief Operating Officer Brian Smith said some people were adamant they would never step foot into a food bank, but were willing to accept help through events like the drive-through.

“It allowed a lot more individuals to be able to access those resources,” Smith said.

Since March 2020, VOA has beefed up its other social service programs and hired about 100 additional staffers. Many are frontline workers, who speak directly with people seeking help.

Sandy Trenary packs vegetables for distribution at the Everett Food Bank on Dec. 1. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Sandy Trenary packs vegetables for distribution at the Everett Food Bank on Dec. 1. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The nonprofit has distributed $65 million in rental assistance and opened two more community resource centers, where people can go for nearly any type of help. It’s in the process of re-opening the Carl Gipson Center for seniors in Everett, establishing a permanent food pantry on Casino Road and establishing an Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program in Monroe.

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald. Readers can support this work through a tax-deductible contribution to The Daily Herald’s Report for America fund.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Monroe in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police: Monroe hit and run suspect arrested for 2 DUIs in 3 hours

The driver had just been arrested and released for a DUI, when he allegedly ran a red light and crashed into a pickup.

Man hurt in house fire east of Everett

The home in the 12400 block of 51st Avenue SE was reported on fire at 12:54 a.m.

A wanted suspect was arrested after a standoff with law enforcement Tuesday night. (Bothell Police Department)
Kidnapping suspect arrested after standoff in Bothell

A large police presence contained the property in the 20500 block of 32nd Dr. SE on Tuesday night.

Community Transit's Lynnwood microtransit pilot project is set to launch this fall with a service area around the Alderwood mall. (Community Transit)
Lynnwood’s microtransit test begins this fall, others possible

Community Transit could launch other on-demand services in Arlington, Darrington and Lake Stevens.

Doctor Thomas Robey sits in a courtyard at Providence Regional Medical Center on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘It’d be a miracle’: Providence tests new treatment for meth addiction

Monoclonal antibodies could lead to the first drug designed to fight meth addiction. Everett was chosen due to its high meth use.

Rev. Barbara Raspberry, dressed in her go-to officiating garments, sits in the indoor chapel at her home, the Purple Wedding Chapel, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Everett, Washington. The space used to be two bedrooms, but she and her husband Don took down a wall converted them into a room for wedding ceremonies the day after their youngest son moved out over 20 years ago. The room can seat about 20 for in-person ceremonies, plus it serves as a changing room for brides and is the setting for virtual weddings that Raspberry officiates between brides and their incarcerated fiancees at the Monroe Correctional Complex. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s oh-so-colorful Purple Wedding Chapel is in the red

Rev. Rasberry has hitched hundreds of couples over the years. After her husband died, she’s unsure if she can keep the place.

Man dies in motorcycle crash that snarled I-5 in Everett

Washington State Patrol: he tried to speed by another driver but lost control and hit the shoulder barrier.

The summit of Mt. Pugh in late July 2022. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Skagit County dentist dies in fall on Mt. Pugh near Darrington

Matthew Gifford, 56, died of blunt force injuries Aug. 13, the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Friday.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Snohomish in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Child, 3, hit and killed while playing in driveway in Snohomish

The deceased was identified as Emilio Vazquez Amaya.

Most Read