News

Double whammy at food banks

By PAT JENKINS

Editor

The economy has three food banks in the south King County area in a bind: Large numbers of people need food at the same time donations to help them are slipping.

Cash contributions, which enable the non-profit food banks to buy food when donations of it dwindle, are down substantially –– more than 60 percent from this time a year ago at the Federal Way agency, and 20 percent at the the Auburn Food Bank. Donations are lagging at the Des Moines Area Food Bank, too.

“It has been a tough winter –– the weather and the economy,” said Dini Duclos, chief executive officer of Multi-Service Center, which operates the Federal Way Food Bank.

“The problem is tied to the economy,” said Jack Laverty, administrator of the Auburn operation. “There’s been some rebounding in the last four weeks, but there’sstill a lot of hesitancy on the part of people to give money if they aren’t sure the economy is coming back up.”

Officials at all three food banks said they’re grateful for the support that’s given and understand if potential donors don’t feel they can give more or at all. Meanwhile, the need for food assistance is ongoing –– and not just from what was once a “traditional” client base of lower-educated, disadvantaged individuals and families, Laverty said. He noted that food banks in the Northwest have the highest number of clients with college or other post-high school educations –– 48 percent, more than double the national average of 23 percent.

Food and other types of assistance “are what our families need to survive, so we have to find ways to provide for them,” said Duclos.

FEDERAL WAY

The Federal Way Food Bank, one of Multi-Service Center’s six major social programs, may have to keep buying food to make it through the winter, officials said.

Cash donations designated for the food bank have dropped to 65 percent of what they were at this time last year –– from $59,000 in the first six months of the 2002-03 fiscal year to $26,000 in the comparable period in the current fiscal year.

Food drives by businesses and community groups before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays last year helped a lot, “and we want to thank those organizations for their support,” said Duclos. “But when the crush of demand hit in December, we dug into our cash reserves to see that all of our families had a good holiday meal.”

Special grants from Boeing and Microsoft helped the center purchase supplies from a non-profit food-buying service in Seattle at discounted prices and food gift certificates from local grocers.

Duclos said it was the first time in her nine years with the center that the Federal Way community didn’t donate “enough food to sustain the food bank through the holidays.”

Normally, cash and in-kind gifts keep the food bank’s warehouse sufficiently stocked into March or April. “Luckily, we had some emergency cash resources so we could replace the deficit, but we are looking closely at why this has occurred,” Duclos said.

According to food bank supervisor Denise Burns, food donations began declining last spring, when annual food drives by Boy Scouts and U.S. Postal Service workers generated 30 percent less than the previous year. And food donations over the last three months are down 6.4 percent.

The dropoff is an indication the economy is preventing donors from sharing. officials said.

“We know that many people who usually donate are not able to give as much as they had in the past because of the current economic climate. It hasn’t impacted just our client families,” said Burns.

The food bank has, at most, a two-month supply of food for the 4,000-plus people who need help each month. “Right now we have some holes in our cupboards,” said Burns.

The food bank’s on South 336th Street. More information is available at 838-6810 and www.skmsc.com.

AUBURN

Auburn Food Bank is coping with its 20 percent downturn in cash donations from local businesses and individuals. “The situation’s not great, but we’ve planned for contingencies,” Laverty said.

In the last eight months, households have been served 12,345 times. Many clients are “coming back more often,” Laverty reported.

Serving the area within the Auburn School District boundaries, the food bank is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. the second Wednesday of each month. On the second Saturday per month, food is delivered to shut-in senior citizens.

The food bank’s phone number is 833-8925.

DES MOINES

The Des Moines Area Food Bank is struggling with the annual post-holidays dropoff in donations. “People tend to forget about us,” lamented director Kris Van Gaskin.

That could be extra trouble this year, since demand is higher than in the same period of 2003. And more people were served last year than any other since the food bank opened in the mid-1960s, Van Gaskin said.

To make up for lagging donations, “we buy thousands of dollars worth of food every month,” she said.

Nearly 900 families –– about 2,700 individuals –– are handled each month. In addition to Des Moines, they come from Tukwila and parts of Seatac and Kent, the combined service area of the food bank, which is housed in Des Moines Methodist Church at 22225 Ninth Ave. S.

Hours are 9 a.m. to noon each Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Donations are accepted at those times, too, Van Gaskin said.

Questions can be answered at (206) 878-2660.

Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, editor@fedwaymirror.com

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