Fresh produce makes the difference

Community support helped us through another strong year providing to the neediest among local residents. Services in 2019 held steady at nearly 24,000 individual service instances, including food bank distribution, Food2GO deliveries to schools, eviction prevention, utility shutoff prevention, and voucher assistance. We distributed over 250,000 pounds of food to nearly 6,000 local households, assisted by over 10,000 hours of recorded volunteer service.

In 2019 ShareNet turned a corner in a foundation we’ve been building for many years: distributing more fruits, vegetables, and balanced proteins than processed foods. With your assistance, we purchased more fresh and frozen produce than ever before, emphasizing fresh over processed wherever possible, continuously transforming our food bank model.

In addition to targeted purchasing, our partnerships with local growers and home gardeners increased greatly in 2019, allowing us to distribute over 6,000 pounds of fresh produce from donated streams alone. We were aided by Farm to Food Pantry (F2FP), a program of the WSDA administered locally by Kitsap Conservation District. Through F2FP we were able to access a broader network and invest in local farmers, a win-win for both our clients and farmers who can use the support.

The phrase “healthy food bank” has not been common, and as well is something of an oxymoron. Food banks saving the day, preventing hunger, serving the neediest, yes, but not always with the healthiest foods.

Taking the food bank model out of the processed foods groove has not been easy. Not only is that kind of food what’s mostly available from supply networks we leverage as a registered food bank, processed foods are easiest to store, easier to distribute, and perceived by some as easier to prepare. These foods still have their place, are still useful if you have nothing else, and still part of our inventory, but less now than ever. Yes, we still get pastries donated through Grocery Rescue, it’s the client choice whether to take them or not, but there are lots of healthy options as well, and through the years we’ve provided everything from classes to recipes to encourage the right choices.

In the early years, we had to encourage produce to fly off the shelf, particularly if it was something unusual (kohlrabi anyone?). The tide has turned; nowadays, the produce we distribute flies off the shelf on its own. Clients want it, and most people want to be healthier.

Every day the food bank is open we have an aisle of produce set up outside as people walk in, stocked on both sides. It’s what they see first; clients can’t miss it. It was an uphill battle at first; sometimes it went to waste. Networking helped, getting the word out helped. Having the participation of Kingston Farm & Garden Co-op’s Giving Garden for many years, and then more recently Poulsbo Lions Firehouse Garden, has been instrumental. F2FP was the pivot in 2019, and expanding the number of people we know who can be providers.

Food2GO

Serving an average of 100 school kids per week every scheduled week of the school year for most of the last decade through our Food2Go program is a challenge and an honor we take pride in. Our “Super Pack” of four dedicated volunteer packers are committed to ordering, stocking, packing and delivering good food to all four local public schools for over 9 months a year, including David Wolfle Elementary School’s summer session.

Other Ways We Help

Our Clean Living hygiene program is as far as we know unparalleled in similar organizations. Most agencies providing such products are doing so on a random basis, distributing donated items like hotel soaps and shampoos. Products for our program are systematically purchased and stocked, including items you might not think of at first like dental floss, sunscreen, laundry and dish soap.

Several hundred people received help through one of our screened assistance programs, covering eviction and utilities shutoff prevention, vouchers for transportation, fuel, clothing or household goods, as well as some one-off but urgent needs. For Thanksgiving 2019 we provided gift cards for the first time, giving clients the dignity of their own meal choices as well as easing our storage capacity. At Back to School Supplies 2019 we purchased new clothing and shoes for distribution to hundreds of kids.

We are grateful for the support which allows us to serve our community.

Mark Ince is the director of ShareNet Food Bank. He can be reached at 360-297-2266 x 1 or director@sharenetfoodbank.org.

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