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Food bank draws busy year to a close, looks toward finding a new home
As 2012 draws to a close, the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank reports a busy year, having served roughly 1,500 Islanders, expanded its hours and upgraded some of its technology and systems.
With the economy still weak and need for support services strong, the demand at the food bank was high all year, according to Executive Director Yvonne Pitrof. The food bank’s statistics through November show that the agency provided food to 653 Island households and 1,439 individuals — roughly 15 percent of the population on the Island — in the first 11 months of the year. On average, the agency provides food for roughly 200 households each week. Summer, which typically draws fewer clients, did not quiet down this year, and an average of 213 families sought assistance each week in July, making it the busiest July on record, Pitrof said.
“That was really a surprise for us,” she said.
Pitrof noted that the difference compared to other summers was striking, with the three previous Julys bringing in 169 to and 179 families.
“We’ve seen a lot of people hit crisis who had never been there before,” she added.
In the spring, the agency began opening its doors from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoons, creating an additional day for food distribution. The change has made the food bank’s services available to people who might not have been able to come otherwise, Pitrof noted, and has eased congestion on Wednesdays, the longstanding distribution day.
“It’s been great,” she said. “People are not waiting for two hours in line anymore.”
The food bank also launched its new Farm and Garden Apprenticeship program in the spring. This program employed an intern — a food bank client — eight hours a week at the food bank’s one-acre farm on Wax Orchard Road and a high school student a few hours a week at the large garden next to the food bank. Farm and garden manager Jenn Coe focused on planting winter crops this year, and the gardens are still active.
“We’re harvesting like crazy,” Pitrof said.
Also in the spring, as part of a grant the United Way awarded, the food bank took part in an assessment of its volunteer program, Pitrof said. The Seattle organization 501 Commons helped lead the review. From that work, Pitrof said, the food bank has come up with what it calls its Volunteer Impact Plan and has developed strategies for communication throughout the organization.
With the agency’s growth in recent years, Pitrof said, some of the communication with volunteers has grown weak, and she hopes now some of those problems will be remedied.
Behind the scenes, Pitrof said, technology changes will help with some of the agency’s more mundane tasks.
For the first time, she said, all the agency’s computers are networked, and an additional technology upgrade came through a grant to the South King County Food Coalition for new software, which Pitrof said will help streamline record keeping and reporting.
Looking to the future, Pitrof noted that the board decided the food bank should begin looking to move, hopefully within the next three to five years. Its location at Sunrise Ridge has served the agency well, she said, but space for both dry goods and perishables is an issue, and also important, she noted, is the need to meet the legal requirements for food handling and storage.
“We serve a lot of food, are handling a lot of food and serve vulnerable people,” Pitrof said.
The board has just begun a needs assessment, but Pitrof noted that ideally she would like to see the farm and food bank in one location, something that she believes would open up many educational possibilities.
To complete all of its changes this year, Pitrof said the agency tapped into its reserve fund. In mid-December, in the midst of its year-end fundraising campaign, it had $125,000 to raise by the end of the month. Last December, the agency received $102,000 in donations, and the higher amount to be raised this year is of some concern to Pitrof.
“If we don’t make our goal, our board is going to have some decisions to make,” she said.