Emergency Food Network works with 68 partner programs in Pierce County. These food pantries, meal sites, and shelters serve more than 114,000 visits every month. Many of these sites are entirely or largely run by volunteers. All of these sites are passionate about helping our neighbors in need.
Each month, we’ll introduce you to a new partner program where we’ll tell their story. How long has their facility been open, what are their operations like, and what drives their passion to help others?
March 2017: Pierce County AIDS Foundation
The Pierce County AIDS Foundation (PCAF), through education and service, prevents HIV infection, assists persons affected by HIV/AIDS, addresses related health problems, and combats associated stigma and discrimination. Their food program has been a part of the organization for almost two years and is open every Thursday. They serve approximately 35 to 40 PCAF clients weekly and distribute over 2,000 pounds of food every month, 95% of which comes from Emergency Food Network. This program is managed by three staff members and a few dedicated weekly volunteers. These volunteers not only help to set up the food area, they also volunteer to pick up food from EFN on a weekly basis.
Kelsey Beil, Client Services Team Lead, has been working with the food program since its beginning. She has noticed incredible changes in client attitudes since updating their program and becoming an EFN partner. “The switch from pre-made bags to a self-select model has really transformed our program,” Beil said, “When offered a choice, clients were happier, friendlier, and would show up early which created more of a community environment. I think we forget how few choices people have and it is so meaningful to allow clients to choose the food that they want to take.”
Clients utilize the time between when doors open and when they can shop with a social hour to have some coffee and catch up. This is certainly a unique aspect of this food program, and clients at PCAF clearly enjoy having time to socialize as a part of the food program, as one client said, “I like the people here, we’re like a little family.”
The food program serves as a dual-purpose for clients, it both decreases food insecurity and also increases their engagement at PCAF. Studies have shown that the more engaged a client is with their AIDS services organization, the better their overall health is. The community hour during the food program is also a time for clients to hear about other services and check in with their case managers. For some PCAF clients this is the only outing that they make during the week.
PCAF has also started a food education program as a part of their services. This includes cooking demos in the lobby that utilize ingredients found in the food pantry. This program led to the distribution of 60 crockpots to clients for the holidays with spices and recipes included. PCAF is grateful for being able to offer this program and hopes to expand it by creating a client cookbook full of shared recipes. We look forward to seeing how they continue to evolve this amazing program and do great work in Pierce County!
To learn more about PCAF, visit their website here.
February 2017: St. Leo Food Connection
This year, St. Leo Food Connection and Emergency Food Network will be celebrating 35 years as partners! Our partnership began in 1982 when both organizations were formed. Over the years, EFN and St. Leo Food Connection have grown together with their commitment to providing high quality, nutritious food to those that need it most.
“We couldn’t do what we do without EFN,” said Kevin Glackin-Coley, St. Leo Food Connection’s Executive Director. EFN supplies 50-60% of the food that goes out through the Food Connection’s doors. The Food Connection and EFN also collaborate with other local agencies through United Way of Pierce County’s Hunger-Free Initiative in order to target gaps in the current emergency food system.
St. Leo Food Connection has three programs: St. Leo Food Bank, Children’s Program, and the Springbrook Mobile Food Bank. St. Leo Food Bank is the second largest in Pierce County and is uniquely open five days a week for about five hours each day. They receive 124,630 visits and distribute 1.4 million pounds of food each year. While they encourage visits to be limited to once a week, they do allow guests to return to the food bank daily when needed. They utilize a self-select model so guests can pick their own food and have educational pamphlets about different produce they have available. They also have cooking demonstrations presented in conjunction with Washington State University Extension so guests can learn recipes using the food they receive from the pantry.
The Food Connection also initiated the popular Backpack program under the
Children’s Program. The program started in 2008, providing 50 students with two days’ worth of food each Friday to bring home from school. Now this program has expanded to providing more than 1,000 students with food throughout the school year. In addition, St. Leo Food Connection and EFN collaborate on the Break Bags program to provide food for students over longer breaks, such as Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring breaks. EFN supports this program by providing food and volunteers to assemble 2,000 Break Bags for each break, The Food Connection distributes them through their network of schools.
“I am continuously inspired by the willingness of staff and volunteers to have a
greater vision of what the emergency food system can look like in Pierce County,” said Kevin Glackin-Coley. This message and the efforts of the St. Leo Food Connection gives hope of a future in Pierce County without hunger.
For more information about St. Leo Food Connection, call (253) 383-5048 or check out their website.
Location: 1323 S. Yakima Ave. Tacoma, WA 98405
January 2017: My Sister’s Pantry
My Sister’s Pantry has been a partner of EFN since their start in 1999. They serve an average of 350 families in Tacoma per month and distribute an average of 125,000 pounds of food each year, 50% of their food is sourced from EFN. All of this is done with only three staff members and a multitude of volunteers. Weekly volunteers shelve food items, cook meals, organize the clothing bank, and bag up food on days of operation.
Martha Curwen has been the Executive Director of My Sister’s Pantry for 16 years. Martha oversees many aspects of the food bank and is continuously inspired by the regular volunteers who make their mission possible. She enjoys the organizational aspects of her job and loves the feeling of gratitude from those who visit the food bank in Tacoma.
My Sister’s Pantry has a unique serving system that utilizes their space and gives guests the opportunity to select what food items they would like to receive. When a guest arrives, they select which items they need from a shopping list they are given that’s full of diverse and nutritious food options. This list moves into the hands of volunteers in the pantry who load the groceries in an assembly line. Guests are given a corresponding number that is called at the walk-up window when their bags are full of food. This system allows for quick service so that all guests are served.
Guests can also receive a hot meal, served on linens and china. In addition, they have access to a clothing bank that has seasonally appropriate clothes and shoes. One of the most incredible things about My Sister’s Pantry is that they never turn a guest away!
This partner program is doing great work in Tacoma! For more information, visit their website or contact them at (253) 627-1186.
Location: 621 Tacoma Avenue, Tacoma, WA 98402
Hours: My Sister’s Pantry is open the 1st and 3rd Mondays of each month from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and the 4th Saturday of the month from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
To find a food bank, meal site, or shelter in your area, please go here.
To see what volunteer opportunities are available at our program partners, please go here.