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?
December 2017: Key Peninsula Community Services
Key Peninsula Community Services serves a rural community that spans five zip codes and 66 square miles. The wide geographic area around Lakebay presents its own set of challenges. Most urban food pantries, for example, can rely on mass transit options to get their neighbors in need to and from their food distribution sites. Key Peninsula doesn’t have that luxury. There simply aren’t any buses. That fact leads to solutions that draw on the community’s “band together” character.
“We encourage people to work with family, friends, and neighbors to find ways to carpool here,” Executive Director Penny Gazabat said. “Most neighbors are really willing to help. I have found that people are willing to rally around a cause like that.”
Key Peninsula Community Services began as a food pantry at the Vaughn Civic Center in 1982. It then moved into the old school house in Lakebay in 1989, when it added a Senior Center program. The sibling programs are now at the heart of the community by providing basic food needs and senior center services to residents of Key Peninsula. The food pantry serves almost 8,000 neighbors from 3,000 households each year.
Food pantry guests generally receive enough food to feed a family for three days, but that food often stretches a few days longer. The food itself comes from regular donation trips to area grocery stores as well as from weekly food pickups from Emergency Food Network.
“It’s a godsend because it really helps create the meals,” Gazabat said, noting the loads of food EFN provides not only adds to the volume of non-perishables the food pantry requires to feed its neighbors, but it furnishes the much-needed fruits and vegetables that transform the food into full and balanced meals.
Neighbors needing food often show up at Key Peninsula Community Services early in the morning. They are given checklists of food that they want from what is available so food doesn’t go to waste. Volunteers then retrieve the items and return to the recipient with full boxes or bags of food. The process was developed out of necessity since the ceilings in the food storage area are too low to allow for a self-select model.
“Anyone over about 5’8” would have to duck their heads,” Gazabat said.
November 2017: BASH
Bikers Against Statewide Hunger (BASH) was founded two decades ago, and it is still managed by volunteers associated with motorcyclists after all these years. They distribute around 35,000 pounds of food to 1,700 guests each month. This is done using pre-packaged boxes of food that are personalized for the recipients based on answers to a questionnaire.
One aspect that makes BASH unique is that it provides food delivery to around 400 neighbors. Volunteers make rounds every week for some regular guests and even some one-time recipients whenever there is a need. This is a huge help for neighbors who are either homebound or lack reliable transportation options to get to the food pantry’s location in Spanaway.
October 2017: The Blessing
The Blessing has been distributing food to our community since 2013, but moved to a new location in Hilltop this past May. This small but mighty food pantry distributes close to 2,000 pounds of food each week utilizing the self-select grocery model. There are no paid staff at The Blessing, so reliable and generous volunteers are essential to the work done each week. According to Sue, the Volunteer Food Bank Manager, “sometimes we have more volunteers, and sometimes we have less, but somehow the work always gets done.” Volunteers also make pick-ups at EFN’s Lakewood Distribution Center, EFN’s Mother Earth Farm, and local grocery stores.
About 50 percent of the food that goes through their pantry comes from EFN. This includes a wide variety of fresh foods like cucumbers, squash, kale, cherries, Swiss chard, and of course the usual staples like peanut butter, soups, dairy, and meat, such as beef, chicken, and ground turkey.
The Blessing treats guests like family. One of the benefits of their new facility is the room for guests to wait inside before the food pantry opens. This is especially important in the colder months of the year. Volunteers shop with guests as they walk through the pantry selecting their food items. Shelf-stable foods have a limit based on family size, but the fresh produce and dairy is often times unlimited. This ensures that they are wasting as little as possible. Sue noted that first-time guests often take more food then they need because they are afraid that they may not be able to return or for some reason there will not be as good of food the next time. Once they realize that this is not a resource they are going to lose, they learn to take only what they need. Past guests form such a strong relationship with the volunteers that many have returned to donate and thank The Blessing for helping them through a hard time.
The environment at The Blessing is clean, open, and incredibly welcoming. Thank you to the amazing volunteers that make up this pantry to serve our Tacoma neighbors.
September 2017: Spanaway Food Bank
The Spanaway Food Bank has distributed food to neighbors in need for 38 years! This food bank is supported by four local churches, Spanaway Lutheran Church, Bethany Lutheran Church, Spanaway Methodist Church, and Our Lady Queen Heaven Catholic Church. These churches rotate weekly to provide volunteers for that particular week and each church has representatives on the Spanaway Food Bank Board of Directors. Each church also holds food drives and fundraisers to buy protein, eggs, butter, and bread.
The Spanaway Food Bank is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for an hour each afternoon and operates first-come, first-served. When a guest arrives, they are given a number and are able to wait in a resource room, which has pamphlets for guests outlining local resources. As numbers are called, guests enter a new room where a volunteer gets information on family-size and any special dietary needs or requests. Bags generally contain enough food for nine meals and are put together throughout the week by volunteers.
Their pre-bagged method allows them to serve between 300 and 350 families each month. The bags are not just loaded with food staples but are also often customized for a guest’s particular needs, such as including pet food if the guest has a pet in need. The greater Spanaway community has also seen an increase in homelessness, and so the food bank has adapted to meet the needs of their guests. Bags will often be altered to provide foods that do not need preparation, for example. Bags can also contain lighter foods, since guests often will be carrying the food around with them.
Smokey, a food bank manager and volunteer, has been helping out at Spanaway Food Bank for 11 years now. He emphasized the importance of Emergency Food Network in his transition into a leadership role at the food bank. Given the limited resources, it took time for Smokey to learn the ropes. He appreciated having the patience and guidance of EFN staff. Smokey says that the great group of people and community support surrounding the food bank keep him inspired to continue serving our neighbors in Pierce County.
August 2017: Harvest House Food Pantry
Harvest House Food Pantry’s origins go back to 1995 when Cedar Springs Community Church would distribute excess bread from local grocery stores. As food insecurity increased in Pierce County, Harvest House has expanded to the established food pantry that they are now. Harvest House has partnered with Emergency Food Network for four years now. According to Justin Henderson, Church Elder and Director of Harvest House, “EFN has created a long-term, sustainable approach to provide diverse and nutritious food on a consistent basis. Prior to our partnership with EFN we were inconsistent and not a reliable food source for our community.” Harvest House is open on Saturday mornings and serves approximately 100 families each week.
Harvest House’s ultimate objective is to value their neighbors, focusing on service with dignity and care. They strive to provide an equitable experience for all of their neighbors and bridge the gap between the volunteers and guests of the food pantry. This is seen even in the design of the food pantry operations. When guests arrive, they are greeted in an open waiting room where coffee and pastries are served. Rather than first come, first served, guests receive a bingo ball to determine the order to which they enter the pantry. After their number is called, a volunteer walks guests through the aisles, just like a grocery store, to receive around 50 pounds of food (or what is equivalent to 40 meals). This includes meat, produce, dairy, and non-perishables.
There is community around the food pantry that goes much further than just receiving food items. This process requires dedicated and caring volunteers. Harvest House has an average of 25 volunteers each Saturday, many of whom also rely on food from the pantry. Some of these volunteers are also at the pantry throughout the week helping to sort through food donations and stock the shelves. Harvest House shelves are well-organized and full of colorful chalkboard signs outlining what goes where similar to a grocery store. The pantry also displays produce on farm stands donated by Bates Technical College. These stands give the feel of a local farmer’s market. This food program is working hard to build community and be a resource for our neighbors!
Be sure to check out their website here to learn more about their work, and get involved.
Harvest House is hosting their 2nd Annual Bountiful event at the Harvest House Food Forest on August 5th. This garden to table event will feature hors d’oeuvres from the garden! See more info and event registration here.
July 2017: Eatonville Family Agency
Eatonville Family Agency is a hub of resources for this Pierce County community. The agency has been around since 1983 and has grown into a comprehensive resource center for the town. With a mission to serve individuals, families, and seniors in need and reduce the impact of poverty through a variety of social services and community programs, they are certainly more than just a food pantry. Eatonville Family Agency offers food, clothing, social services, and access to showers, computers, and a variety of community engagement activities.
The agency provides food for close to 1,000 clients each month, a little less than half of the population of Eatonville, and distributed 342,845 pounds of food in 2016. They are currently utilizing the pre-bagged grocery method to distribute this food but will switch to the self-select shopping style after they add an additional building to the community center this year. Around 60% of the food that Eatonville Family Agency distributes is from Emergency Food Network, the rest comes from Food Lifeline’s grocery rescue program and individual donations.
Eatonville Family Agency also benefits from the school food rescue program taking place at all schools in the Eatonville School District. Unused food from school meals is given to the food pantry so it can go back into the community. The agency received 4,000 pounds of food during the pilot year for the 2016 – 2017 school year. They received a lot of fruit and dairy as well as larger prepared salads that could be used for their senior meal program.
Their organization seeks to empower community members to make healthy choices in a few different ways. Produce pickups from Emergency Food Network’s Mother Earth Farm often include unique greens. Staff uses this opportunity to make recipes available for guests to get excited to try something new, organic, and healthy! They also offer monthly “Healthy Living” classes that have recently included making your own cheese, soap, and yogurt! It is easy to see why this free resource has been well received by the community.
June 2017: Tacoma Rescue Mission
Tacoma Rescue Mission has been serving Pierce County since 1912. Over the past 100 years they have adapted their services to the needs of Tacoma and strive to treat all guests with dignity and care. Last year, they served 2,290 people, providing emergency services such as food and shelter, as well as resources for self-sufficiency for individuals experiencing homelessness including housing, career counseling, recovery, and more.
Emergency Food Network and Tacoma Rescue Mission have a long-time partnership. In fact, 35 years ago, leadership of the Tacoma Rescue Mission recognized a need for more emergency food in Pierce County and helped start EFN as a food distribution center in 1982!
Tacoma Rescue Mission’s feeding program focuses heavily on hot meals. Three meals are served daily to men, women, and children in the Good Neighbor Café. This amounts to more than 1,000 meals each day! With such a large output, it may be surprising that Tacoma Rescue Mission will not sacrifice quality for quantity. They focus on serving diverse and nutritious meals. That is just one of the reasons why EFN and Tacoma Rescue Mission make such great partners! Because many clients want to make healthy food choices, Tacoma Rescue Mission offers meals that include protein as well as a salad bar option.
Almost all of the food they serve is made from scratch and many clients are given the opportunity to learn to cook and help out in the kitchen. This is a chance to learn a new skill while giving back to their community. Andrew McGruder, Food Service Director at Tacoma Rescue Mission, takes great pride in the high-quality of the food they serve and receives regular compliments on it. One way Andrew plans to continue offering high-quality meals is to start a garden! With the help of volunteers, Tacoma Rescue Mission is working on establishing three rows of fresh produce, such as leafy greens, tomatoes, and celery, that they can use in the kitchen.
In addition to hot meals, Tacoma Rescue Mission also has a small food pantry. The food pantry utilizes a self-select model where guests are able to choose which food items they would like to take home. This model helps not only to eliminate waste but also to serve guests with dignity and respect.
Tacoma Rescue Mission is doing such important work in our community and we are honored to work alongside them to feed Pierce County.
May 2017: Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry
Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry has been in operation in various forms for 25 years. Their program has grown over time from handing out coupons, to having a food table in the library, to the current food pantry that is open to the community three times a week. They distributed 87,922 pounds of food last year to more than 4,500 households. This is done solely with volunteers!
Their partnership with EFN has allowed them to cater their programs to the needs of their community. To Wanda Wentworth, one of their pantry coordinators, this means not just serving more people, but being able to use their money to buy more nutritious food such as protein and fresh produce.
Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry places a lot of value on nutrition and health. They are one of our partner programs that receive fresh organic produce from EFN’s Mother Earth Farm! Volunteers present this produce beautifully on the choice table in baskets with signs that describe what it is and an example recipe. Besides the produce form Mother Earth Farm, they also have a community garden that is managed by volunteers and have launched a container garden workshop that includes everything you need to grow your own vegetables at home. In addition, they host regular demos and tastings, during which a volunteer creates a recipe using items from the pantry and shares it with guests as they come to pick up food. This keeps guests thinking creatively about how to use food from the pantry!
Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry shares a space with a weekly senior meals program which allows convenient access for seniors who want to receive a hot meal and then pick up groceries at the pantry. This is an especially important service since senior visits to our partner programs have gone up 30% since 2011.
Another interesting aspect of the pantry is their “Preservin’ for the Hungry” applesauce program. Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry has been partnered with the Center for Food Preservation Arts for three years and in that time they have produced 500 jars of applesauce for the food pantry. This applesauce is a huge hit with guests and is a fun way for volunteers to learn a new skill.
Volunteers are the foundation of the Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry. Many have been giving more than 20 hours a week for years and are committed to the consistent growth and improvement of their services. It’s clear that volunteers at the food pantry have genuine care for each guest. One volunteer said, “Along with the gift of food, we give the gift of love and respect.”
Thank you, Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry, for the work that you are doing in our community! Your care and attention to the needs of our neighbors is truly inspiring.
For more information, or to volunteer at the food pantry, check out their website here.
April 2017: St. Andrew Emmanuel Food Pantry
St. Andrew Emmanuel Food Pantry is celebrating their 25th year feeding the Sumner community, just down the road from EFN’s Mother Earth Farm! The pantry is open three days a week, and they serve an average of 600 visitors each month. Like many of our partner programs, this food pantry is run solely by volunteers. Dedicated church members manage this program as if it were their full time job. Kelly, one of the pantry’s regular volunteers, acknowledged that EFN’s partnership goes further than just receiving food, “It’s been a blessing to have such a committed, patient, knowledgeable, and willing group at EFN to help guide us.” Their volunteers do everything from picking up food, coordinating volunteers, fundraising, purchasing food items, and all sorts of community outreach and collaboration.
In order to utilize their small space, the food pantry uses a grocery check-list so clients choose which items they would like to receive. Volunteers then bag up these items in an assembly line and hand out bags full of food at the other end of the building. Guests can pick from items like bread, cookies, and flowers that are kept outside of the building while they wait for their bag of groceries.
Arlene Evavold, the food pantry coordinator, has deep roots in the community and has developed partnerships that help the food pantry to serve clients outside of the pantry itself. Some examples of this include her partnerships with local churches for their Give Big basket program around the holidays, the opportunity for students with disabilities to volunteer at the pantry, and their program for low-income seniors to deliver bags of food to the home-bound.
A unique aspect of this food pantry is their adaptability to the homeless population. St. Andrew Emmanuel Food Pantry serves around 10-20 clients that are experiencing homelessness during a given week. The food pantry is thoughtful of the needs of their clients and have a diverse selection of items specifically for those experiencing homelessness. The pantry stocks food items like peanut butter, tuna, and chili that can be easily eaten without cooking supplies. In addition, they distribute non-food items like refillable propane canisters, can openers, tarps, hats, gloves, blankets, hand warmers, and basic hygiene products. Arlene sets a strong precedent among volunteers to treat guests with dignity and respect, “If you can’t do it without a judgmental attitude, you can’t be of service to the people coming through the doors.”
We are so grateful for amazing partners like St. Andrew Emmanuel Food Pantry to help carry out EFN’s mission. Keep doing great work in Pierce County!
To learn more about St. Andrew Emmanuel Food Pantry, visit their website here.
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.