The Puyallup Food Bank is pleading for food, financial donations, staff and another building, all while serving unprecedented numbers of people throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are in dire straits,” interim president Shanna Peterson told The News Tribune on Friday. “We desperately need donations and volunteers and space.”
Reliance on the Puyallup Food Bank has increased dramatically this year as Pierce County’s unemployment claims have increased dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
The food bank served 50,000 people in all of 2019. It has served more than that already this year. With the holiday season being the busiest, Peterson is worried.
The Pierce County Council allocated $1.5 million of federal CARES Act dollars to food banks, but there is concern for next year. Puyallup was allocated up to $100,000, which Peterson expects to be spent on food.
“We are still getting CARES funding, but it’s starting to dry up,” Peterson said. “We don’t know what will happen next year. Come January, we are going to be in that old location and that will be a challenge.”
The Puyallup Food Bank has outgrown its building. With only 7,000-square feet, pallets of food stacked on top of each other were cramped, Peterson said.
Safeway has leased the building, and the food bank must move before the end of the year, Peterson said. The Puyallup Food Bank is moving back to its old location at 110 23rd St. SE, and Peterson said they will not be able to continue to serve as many people as they have been.
Safeway did not immediately respond for comment.
Peterson is asking local warehouse owners for up to 10,000 square feet to store dry food. If she can’t store it locally, much of the stockpiled food will be distributed to other food banks in the area, leaving Puyallup with less.
“If we can’t store it, we have to give it to other food pantries, and Puyallup will be dry. If we don’t have the space to store it, it will make a huge impact on Puyallup families,” she said. “Our clients are increasing, and our space is decreasing.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Puyallup Food Bank received about 90 percent of their donations from business, school and the state fair food drives. The holiday season usually brings in more personal donations as well. Peterson said neither of those things are happening this year.
“This time of year, typically we are moving in the back with donations, and this year, just trickling in,” she said. “I have only a couple businesses setting up food drives.”
Many of their volunteers are senior citizens, who have not returned due to COVID-19 concerns, Peterson said.
If they do not receive more donations, space and help, Peterson said, they will have to withdraw their community outreach. Community programs rely on food from the Puyallup Food Bank to prepare meals for children and seniors.
“We are serving families here, but our food is also being distributed to homeless vets and homeless people and people cooking meals for seniors,” Peterson said. “It will make a huge impact on the community if we have to pull back.”
Communities in Schools of Puyallup’s executive director Jan Mauk said they have distributed a total of approximately 22,250 meals since March to students. While she doesn’t directly partner with the food bank, some of the food bank donations end up in meals to students.
“They have always been willing to help when they have resources to give out,” Mauk said.
The Puyallup Food Bank asks for donations of peanut butter, turkey and up to $25 grocery store gift cards, which can be dropped off at the former Safeway building on 1405 E. Main until Dec. 23.
“Anyone who is healthy, willing and able, we can find something for them to do,” Peterson said. “We can always find something for people to do.”