ShareNet in Kingston always asks for donations the final three months of each year to help raise money to buy food for its clients all year long through its Neighbor Aid campaign.
Unlike many food banks, ShareNet doesn’t get a lot of food donated from grocery stores. The Albertsons in Kingston is the only one. So it has to buy most of its food for its 50 or so families in need.
Director Mark Ince said that actually works out well for ShareNet because it can buy more nutritious items than food banks often can give out.
“We’ve had a nutrition focus for a number of years,” Ince said.
Food banks that rely on food drives or random donations actually end up with lots of breads and pastries. “We get a better grade of food,” Ince said, adding that also means it can buy hygiene products for clients that aren’t available at many other food banks.
Like almost everywhere else, ShareNet had to change its food bank when COVID-19 hit. “The whole thing had to be completely remodeled,” he said.
Previously, the ShareNet food bank operated much like a regular grocery store, with the help of an intake person. But now, it’s a drive-through operation.
Volunteers fill up bags with frozen food, dry goods, produce, dairy and hygiene supplies that everyone gets.
“All the different food categories,” Ince said, adding clients still get to pick out some of the food they want, such as meat.
“As much as we give” it’s still not enough for most of the families, Ince said.
Clients can pick up food Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or by an arranged time. Most of the clients are seniors, children and people with disabilities, he said, adding the Neighbor Aid campaign brought in $70,000 last year.
The entire operation is run on the honor system; there is no economic screening.
People can always “trick the system,” Ince said, but added it’s more likely more people actually don’t use the system who could for various reasons.
Ince said some clients were worried they would have to wait a long time, but the volunteers are “so efficient” that hasn’t been a problem.
Up to 70 people, mostly seniors, volunteer at the food bank, but during COVID’s first few months the number dropped to about 10 percent of that amount.
Also since the coronavirus hit, ShareNet has taken over the Food2GO program for students in Kingston Public Schools. That’s about 100 kids a week. The volunteers drive the food to the homes of the recipients.
“There’s more work for them,” Ince said of volunteers, adding there are also fewer of them due to COVID. Since most are seniors and more vulnerable to the virus, many are opting out until things are safer.
Ince said Kitsap County has not been affected by COVID-19 as bad as other counties.
“We’re not as hard it when it comes to COVID or job loss,” he said. “Our clients aren’t in dire need.”
But he’s more concerned about what might happen in a year or two, like in 2008 during the mortgage crisis.
“It took us two years to feel the full effect of that,” Ince said. “And it’s never gone back down.”
ShareNet is a nonprofit organization, so all contributions are tax-deductible. ShareNet is located at 26061 United Road, Kingston. The mailing address is P.O. Box 250, Kingston, WA 98346.