To state the obvious, 2020 has been a wild ride for the Vashon Food Bank. Highlights included: pivoting all of our programming to fall in line with sanitation and social distancing recommendations, on-boarding over 120 brand new volunteers, seeing an increase in overall donations and receiving the largest single donation, the property formerly known as DIG, that the organization has ever received, all while serving more of Vashon’s residents than ever before.
In our new COVID model, 110 to 120 households arrive onsite every Wednesday to fill out a detailed order form and wait in the parking lot for staff and volunteers to pack their groceries. For almost a decade, the Vashon Food Bank has had a home delivery program that sent custom-packed groceries to the doorsteps of 25 to 30 households per week. That number has jumped to an average of 140 households per week (a nearly 500% increase) leading us to dedicate every Thursday solely to home deliveries and to hire a Home Delivery Coordinator to manage and streamline the program.
In a matter of months, the Vashon Food Bank went from being the island’s third-largest “grocery store” to the island’s largest order and pick-up/delivery service.
In late spring, as we settled into our new grocery service models, a lingering question loomed large: how are we going to adapt our much-loved kids’ summer meal program, Picnics in the Park, to this new COVID reality when we cannot host a daily community gathering in a public park?
Because of our strong relationship with the Vashon Island School District, it took only a couple of brainstorming sessions for the answer to arrive. The food bank should provide the funding and volunteer labor to maintain an augmented version of the lunch pickup and delivery program that VISD designed earlier in the spring! Hence, the birth of Picnics To Go!, where free lunches and take-home activities were offered for pick-up at the high school and from select locations served by the Picnics To Go! school bus. From late June to the end of August, Picnics To Go! served 9,276 free and nutritious meals to anyone who wanted one; infant, youth, adult or senior.
In late September, after nearly seven months of running full speed and re-inventing on the fly, we decided to close the food bank for a staff in-service week. We spent this valuable time focusing on sidelined projects, reflecting on the major transitions we’ve managed through in the past eight months, and planning for the challenges that will come with winter in the Pacific Northwest.
In inclement weather, how will we get groceries to the doorsteps of those with gravel or dirt driveways that easily and frequently washout? How will we maintain a safe and comfortable work environment on the “packing floor” in freezing conditions when we currently rely on open doors for circulation and airflow? How, in the Pacific Northwest rain, can we keep paper grocery sacks and their precious contents dry as they move from the packing floor to volunteer drivers’ cars to customers’ doorsteps?
As staff mulled over these questions and took a step back to reflect on the important role the Vashon Food Bank plays in this community, a handful of words repeatedly bubbled up. Reliable, adaptable, dignity, abundance and inclusion were among them.
A recent nation-wide analysis conducted by Feeding America suggested that, in Washington, food insecurity (the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food) is projected to increase by as much as 15% and the projected rate of childhood food insecurity will be 24 to 26%. Their models also predict that places that had relatively lower rates of food insecurity before COVID-19, like Vashon Island, will see the largest relative increases in food insecurity, though they will generally still have relatively lower rates.
Demand for the Vashon Food Bank’s grocery services has already seen an overall increase of about 20%. As the logistical challenges of grocery distribution mount and families continue to bear the economic burden of a COVID-fueled recession, we expect our service numbers to increase even more in the foreseeable future.
Because of the extreme generosity we’ve seen from this community, we are able to adapt in an ever-changing environment to provide an average of 60 pounds of nutritious groceries to 260 households every week. In a world that feels increasingly insecure, the Vashon Food Bank provides nutritious food, a basic human right, to Vashon residents so they can focus their energies on other important endeavors, like self-empowerment and civic engagement.
Thank you, to every donor and volunteer who has contributed in the past and to those who will contribute in the future, for helping us do this important work. And thank you, to every food bank customer, for your resourceful advocacy for yourselves and your families. The acts of giving and receiving are reciprocal and make this community stronger than it would otherwise be.
Emily Scott is the executive director of the Vashon Food Bank.