Food banks showing state how to dish it out


The Mirror

South King County is home to some of Washington's strongest opposition to


The Des Moines Area Food Bank, for going beyond simply handing out food, and the Federal Way-based Multi-Service Center, in recognition of becoming a regional food courier service, were stars during Food Lifeline's annual conference March 27 in Seattle.

The Excellence in Client Service Award was presented to the Des Moines

organization, and Multi-Service Center received the Excellence in Collaboration Award. Both prizes were accompanied by $5,000 grants to help keep putting food on people's tables.

The awards highlight leading-edge service among the 250-plus agencies in

western Washington that are associated with Food Lifeline, the largest non-profit food bank supplier in Washington. Last year, more than 21 million pounds of food passed through Food Lifeline.

Some of that went to the Des Moines food bank, which caught Food Lifeline's

eye with the ways it was distributed from there to the Des Moines, Seatac and Kent areas. The agency offers evening hours for the working poor who have day jobs, delivers to shut-ins, works with schools to give food directly to children, and lets clients select their own food instead of making choices for them.

The latter has done wonders for clients' "dignity" while also reducing the

amount of food that goes unused, said Kris Van Gasken, the food bank's executive director. She said more than half of all food banks give out bags of food based on "balanced meal plans," but not everybody might like what they get. So they're happy when their preferences in vegetables and other food groups are honored.

For instance, "we have a lot of Hispanic families that love corn, so they

take all the corn they can get" when given the choice, Van Gasken explained. Des Moines went to a choice system because some unwanted food was coming back as re-run donations or was left behind by clients. Now people are likely getting better nutrition because they're receiving what they like, Van Gasken said.

“I like it because now food that my family won’t eat or are allergic to

won’t go to waste,” one client wrote when the food bank asked for comments.

Nutrition gets a boost, too, from the food bank's lessons in cooking and food preparation. People are given ideas for getting maximum use and nutrition out of food items. "They can stretch their budgets and food supplies and improve their meals," Van Gasken said.

Multi-Service Center received Food Lifeline's collaboration award for pulling agencies and resources together to strengthen the South King County Food Bank Coalition, of which Van Gasken is president.

At one time, food banks in the coalition that lacked a place to store large

amounts of food or didn't have their own vehicles relied on volunteers to make as many as three round-trips a day to the Food Lifeline warehouse in Shoreline and Northwest Harvest in Seattle to stock up. Multi-Service Center fixed that by successfully applying to Boeing for a 20-foot delivery van and to United Way of King County for money to hire a driver and cover the vehicle's maintenance. Now the van makes daily deliveries for the food banks.

The shared service, which is coordinated by Multi-Service Center, is more

cost-effective and better for keeping shelves full. According to Nancy

Hohenstein, a spokeswoman for the center, runs north have been reduced by 80 percent and the food banks have larger amounts of perishable and non-perishable food on hand.

Ironically, Boeing also sponsored the award that Multi-Service Center won

partly with the company's support.

Cash prizes from companies such as Boeing turn service awards into

"investments in the good work of our member agencies,” said Linda Nageotte, Food Lifeline's president.

The Des Moines Area Food Bank was launched in 1969 after layoffs by Boeing

left many families without a breadwinner. Since then, demand for emergency food assistance has grown to an average of 800 families per month, Van Gasken said.

Multi-Service Center's Federal Way Food Bank, combined with its companion clothing bank, has assisted about 13,000 individuals in past years.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565,

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