With gift, food bank plans ahead

The Vashon Food Bank has received the DIG Nursery property as a charitable donation.

Board members of the Vashon Food Bank have plotted a move from the organization’s present location at Sunrise Ridge for some time, and now they’re one step closer to fulfilling their long-term expansion plans, recently receiving the DIG Nursery property from Vashon Island Tree of Life, LLC as a charitable donation.

Tim Hulley of Tree of Life wrote in a statement provided to The Beachcomber that the company gifted the two-acre property to the food bank to support the organization’s commitment to growing food security on the island. He added that the food bank’s efforts to expand its capacity and serve the island’s growing needs this year have been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic at a time when the organization is serving more people, with many affected by the economic downturn.

“Their mission that ‘no one on Vashon goes hungry’ is more urgent now than ever, and Vashon Island Tree of Life is grateful for the opportunity to be one of the local contributors to the food bank’s ongoing capital campaign,” Hulley said.

Public records show the property was sold by longtime owners Sylvia Matlock and Ross Johnson to Hulley for $950,000 in September of 2018.

Between in-person pick-up, home deliveries and other distribution, the food bank now serves approximately 300 island families each week, nearly 20% more than before the onset of the pandemic according to a press release. The food bank plans to sell the DIG property and will use the proceeds to help fund operations and build its capital reserve in anticipation of a move somewhere else that is more accessible to islanders and includes additional warehouse space.

In an interview, Chair Vicki Boyd said while selling a commercial property in an uncertain real estate market may prove difficult due to the pandemic, the food bank could not express enough gratitude for the significant donation. She added that board members walked through the grounds of the former nursery last week and are preparing to answer any questions that community members may have about what comes next.

Due to requirements around zoning, the food bank could not simply relocate to the nursery, Boyd said, closer to town on the main highway but lacking any of the facilities the board is looking for. That includes office space and enough room for grocery distribution for staff and volunteers to work together safely while maintaining social distancing — she noted that the configuration inside the warehouse does not allow for people to walk by one another — in addition to more refrigeration storage space for goods. It is unclear how or when the food bank will be able to resume the customer grocery shopping model it has offered previously, so having ample and flexible space is an important goal for the future, with Boyd noting that Sunrise Ridge — a former military installation — is just not big enough anymore.

“We looked into rehabbing to see if we can make it work, and we certainly couldn’t afford what we would need to be doing, and you know, some of the walls up there are two or three feet thick,” she said.

There’s also the matter of traveling to Sunrise Ridge, far away from town and, especially for clients who rely on the island’s limited public transport, is somewhat of a hike to reach on foot.

“And when it’s raining and you’re walking back down to the road and then you’re walking back to town where you might live, it’s tough,” Boyd said. “And now with [COVID-19], people can’t share rides as they did, and that’s going to be a little bit difficult for a while.”

But building from the ground up elsewhere is too cost-prohibitive. Moreover, the DIG property would be too large for the food bank to maintain if it was a contender for the organization’s permanent home, Boyd said.

Meanwhile, other spaces that may be able to accommodate the food bank, Boyd said, such as the old K2 building, wouldn’t be ready to move into for several years. For now, the search continues.

“This is a wondrous gift that was given to us by people who care a lot about the community, who care a lot about our residents, and their hearts are in the right place, and we want to be good shepherds of that gift,” Boyd said.

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