Editor’s note: This article is reprinted from the Vashon Riptide. The Beachcomber is pleased to include on its pages the fine journalism of Vashon High School students. To read more, visit riptide.vashonsd.org.
By Lila Cohen
For the Vashon Riptide
With the onset of COVID-19 last spring, the Vashon Food Bank quickly realized they would have to dramatically shift its approach to helping the community.
From changing “Picnics in the Park” to “Picnics to Go,” to completely reframing how people get their groceries, the food bank has taken on a new way of running their organization.
Prior to COVID-19, the food bank operated as a grocery store. Customers could walk through the building, browsing shelves and selecting the items they wanted. Now, the food bank has shifted to home delivery and in-person ordering systems.
The home delivery service existed before the pandemic but has since grown dramatically, and has gone from serving approximately 30 households per week to a record of 172 households per week in November.
As for the new in-person ordering system, customers drive to the food bank and fill out an inventory form of everything they want. Then staff members pack up their food and load it into their car. Both systems were designed to abide by CDC guidelines and keep everyone safe, while still offering customers a variety of products.
“[Even with COVID-19] we’re still striving to achieve high quantities of groceries and a lot of variety. We’re very committed to the notion that there is dignity in being able to choose your own items as much as possible,” said Emily Scott, the director of the Vashon Food Bank. “A lot of other food banks right now will prepackage boxes of food, and just hand them to people, which is great and very useful and it’s helping tons of people. But in our model, we’re still pretty committed to offering people choice.”
In recent months, the food bank has risen to the occasion of meeting the increased demand and is now serving 25 percent more of the community than they have in past years. Due to the virus-induced rise in need, the food bank has brought on new staff and expanded its workspace to include a large tent.
The Vashon Food Bank has always been a community effort but has been especially so this year. More people than ever are needing this important resource, and many community members are stepping up to help the food bank meet the demand. An example of this was recently when the food bank got an especially large shipment of frozen chicken. The establishment did not have enough freezer space to store it, so Vashon Thriftway stepped up and let them store 500-1000 pounds of meat on a short-term basis in one of their freezers.
Individual community members have also helped with funding. Many people have donated generous amounts of money to help support the food bank in these troubling times.
“The kind of the outpouring of support in the community — it’s just been really, pretty stunning,” Scott said.
With a winter full of uncertainty looming, the food bank will likely continue to see an increase in need. While so far this year, the food bank has been able to meet the demand and feels prepared for the near future, the current economic crisis could make things more challenging.
“We have yet to turn anybody away or to say no to anyone. We talked early on about… if we had to cap on delivery. But we haven’t had to do that yet,” Scott said.
Financial contributions are the best way to support the food bank and can be made at vashonfoodbank.org. Donations to the food bank will support an organization that believes everyone has the right to healthy and nutritious food.
“Our programming is built on a really strong belief that access to food is a basic human right,” Scott said. “Not that it’s peripheral or secondary, but that access to healthy food shouldn’t be compromised during times of global economic crisis or personal financial crisis… When supporting [The Vashon Food Bank, you are supporting a] safety net for the whole community that makes us all stronger and more secure, especially now in times when everybody’s feeling a little bit insecure.”
The food bank is committed to the idea that food is a cornerstone of a society and democracy.
“[We stand by the] notion that without access to nutritious food, any member of society can’t really be expected to be civically engaged or able to fully take care of themselves or their families… Food is such an important foundational piece of personal and mental and emotional health [and] we’re just very committed to that notion,” Scott said.
— Lila Cohen is a reporter for the Vashon Riptide.