The COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence local food banks, according to Shirley Moss. Moss, manager of the Port Townsend Food Bank, has seen the …
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence local food banks, according to Shirley Moss. Moss, manager of the Port Townsend Food Bank, has seen the number of customers drop during the height of the pandemic, only to slowly climb back up.
“When the pandemic started, we were helping about 240 to 260 families and 90 seniors every week,” Moss said.
“But the numbers greatly dropped during the early days of the pandemic.”
Moss said the government was issuing more food stamps and the families that were using the food bank instead used the food stamps and shopped for themselves at local grocery stores.
“We operated a bit differently during the pandemic,” she said. “We would bag food items and take them to the car for our clients. When I talked to families that used the food bank, they said that they didn’t like not being able to choose their own food items.
“And with more food stamps, they chose to shop at the grocery stores rather than come to the food bank.”
But in June of 2021, once vaccinations were available and the COVID numbers dropped, the Port Townsend Food Bank began allowing clients to shop for themselves at the food bank again.
“Our numbers went back up, but not drastically because people were still getting more food stamps,” Moss said.
The last three weeks have seen 12, 20, and 23 families seek food, and 60, 71, and 54 seniors come to the food bank.
“We really expect to see our numbers continue to rise,” Moss said. “With the cost of gasoline, food, and everything else going up, and the reduction of food stamps, families are going to need our help again.”
Moss said the food bank is now offering shopping for seniors on Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., to allow them to be able to take more time to make their food choices.
“We heard from them that they felt rushed when they shopped with the families with children,” she said. “And we’re still looking for more seniors to come in.”
Most of the food inventory that the Port Townsend Food Bank has comes from the Food Lifeline warehouse in Seattle. But even that remains affected by the pandemic.
“We used to get three pages of food items to choose from,” Moss said. “Lately it’s been just one page.”
The lack of inventory is due partly from supply chain problems, and partly from the fact that grocery stores are ordering less from manufacturers, and hence, there is less “overage” to be donated to Food Lifeline, and ultimately to food banks through Western Washington.
“The stores are getting better at ordering, so there’s not a lot of leftovers,” she said. “We still do get food from food drives, and local sources, but the variety has changed.”
Fresh eggs are an item that the food bank hasn’t had for some time, she said. “And we’re always needing canned protein; items like peanut butter, and tuna.”
She said the bank just got in the donated food from the WAVE food drive and there was only one jar of peanut butter.
Food drives do supplement other donations and the four food banks in Jefferson County split the donations from the WAVE and the Letter Carriers drives, the two major drives each year.
Something that’s been a great addition to the food banks in the county in the past year are two new refrigerated trucks, for a total of three.
“That’s been so wonderful because we can go to Costco and Walmart in Sequim to pick up food and not worry that it will spoil or melt before getting back home,” she said. “We really needed them.”
A future need that is expected to be completed this coming year is a new home for the Quilcene Food Bank. Currently they share space with the community center, but a new building is under construction.
Moss has been managing the Port Townsend Food Bank for 10 years and has been a volunteer at the bank since 1998. It is an all-volunteer food bank and no one, including Moss are paid a salary.
“We have the most amazing volunteers,” she said. “Many of them are retired from healthcare professions or have been teachers. They are just so stellar, and they care so much about our clients.”
They do various jobs including “bread runs” to pick up bread from a local Safeway, fill the shelves at the food bank from what’s been donated, or help clients register and complete their shopping.
For Moss, it’s a rewarding job.
“When I go places occasionally someone comes up to me and tells me what the food bank has meant to them,” she said. “I’ve been told ‘thank you’ from people who said they had to use the food bank because they lost their job and didn’t work for a while.”
And because the bank participates in a national program called Cake for Kids, they can offer families the opportunity to order birthday cakes for their children, made just for them.
“They can choose the flavor, what kind of decorations they want, and we can even meet special dietary needs.
“Volunteers make the cakes as ordered. We just made a cake for a 7-year-old boy who wanted a pirate, or a nautical theme, and he was gluten-free. These kids are able to have these beautiful birthday cakes that their parents can’t afford to make.”
What the food bank needs most is food donations or money. It can use the money to buy food at very low cost through Food Lifeline. And schools often sponsor food drives to replenish the food bank throughout the year.
Jefferson County has four food banks: Tri-Area, Quilcene, Brinnon and Port Townsend. Together they form the Jefferson County Food Bank Association. They share ideas and work toward ending food insecurity in the county. Food or financial donations can be made at any of them, or on the website, JeffersonCountyFoodBanks.org.