GENESEE - Most of us have felt the pangs of hunger if we missed a meal because we were late for school or work, or if our day was just too busy that we did not have the time to eat. But what if you are hungry every day when you leave your house or apartment? Not because you are late for school or work and don't have time to eat, but you don't have the money to go to the store to buy groceries and you have grown accustomed to the pain of an empty stomach as a normal way of life.
You could be a young mother feeling unimaginable guilt for only having water to put in her baby's bottle, or having no breakfast to give her school-aged children before they leave for school without lunches to send with them. And this does not happen only once, but day after day, week after week, unless the mother or father can find help through a local agency for food stamps or a community food bank.
There are many reasons people need the help of food banks: a large portion of food bank clients are classified as "the working poor" who have one or more people with jobs in a single family but the majority of their paychecks are spent for rising rent or mortgage payments, utilities, gas, clothing, medications and other necessities. Others are senior citizens who struggle to survive on their monthly Social Security checks: food banks help to stretch their food dollars or many of them would go hungry or have to cut back on medications to spend the money on food.
Some clients are disabled and unable to work or have had health emergencies. Others have lost jobs and have been unable to find another job quickly enough to provide enough food to feed their family. Others have little or no job skills and are unable to attain employment, struggling to make ends meet.
A SOUTH END SAVIOR
There are various non-profit food bank distribution agencies in Washington, such as Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline, which distribute food and other necessities to all of the state's food banks. However, it is impossible for them to provide enough for all of Washington without the help of neighborhood-centered food banks like the Northwest Community Services (NWCS) Food Bank at 4205 Rainier Ave. S.
Founded in 1991, The NWCS Food Bank covers all of Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, West Seattle and other areas: their mottos is, "Nobody is turned away, no matter where they live."
The South End food bank is one of the poorest and neediest in Seattle and serves a community of various nationalities and cultures, resulting in many of the clients unable to speak English.
Julia Ann Berger has been volunteering at the NWCS Food Bank for 17 years. She lives in Burien but comes to the food bank in Rainier Valley to answer the telephone and register clients. When a new client comes in, Berger asks them for identification or a piece of mail with their address before filing it and asking them to sign in. This file system is designed to help the food bank figure out approximately how many regular clients they serve, but identification is not a must for someone to get help from the NWCS Food Bank.
"We don't turn anyone away, everyone is welcome, whether they have identification or not or wherever they come from," Berger asserted. "All are welcome here and will be given food. They are not required to live in the area for us to give them food; there are no boundaries."
Berger also explained that a person in need isn't required to show up at the NWCS Food Bank door to get help.
"We also have homebound services for people that are homebound, and we give out bags of food to caregivers," Berger noted. "And every third Friday is baby day when we give out anything we have [to needy parents] that has been donated for babies, such as formula, diapers, wipes, baby food, clothing, strollers and even furniture."
This writer remembers that, as a toddler, I watched with hunger tearing at my belly while my older siblings dug through dumpsters behind grocery stores to try and find food to feed us. Our parents were out of work and they were unable to feed our family of six children. How grateful we would have been to have had a food bank to help us through those hard times. There is no shame, or embarrassment to ask for help, a sentiment expressed by clients of NWCS Food Bank.
Stephanie Williams and her grandson Rashad Swank from Tukwila said they come to the NWCS because they like the people better than a food bank that was nearer to where they lived.
"The volunteers and workers treat the clients better, nicer, not like they are low life people or something," Williams said. "Everybody I talk to likes the members at this food bank better. The attitude of the workers and volunteers is so important, everyone here has such a friendly and positive attitude that draws people to this particular food bank."
Volunteer, Mary Ward, said it is very important to treat people with respect no matter what they look like or where they are from.
"They are people just like us, we've all been through bad times when we needed help, so this is our chance to be here for them," Ward said. "I've worked here a lot of years and never once had any trouble, most people are so grateful just for a kind word and a smile."
Another client, Florencio Adreano, who lives in Columbia City with his wife and seven children, is grateful for the help NWCS Food Bank gave his family after he lost his job.
"People treat me so nice here, sometimes I get much food, sometimes not much, but all of it helps to feed my big family," Adreano said.
Rhonda James, agency director of NWCS Food Bank said she starts off the week, ahead of their Wednesday and Saturday distribution hours, by contacting the larger food assistance distributors.
"I call Northwest Harvest on Tuesdays, and they let me know what they have for me. Food Lifeline has a website where I order from a list of available foods," James said. "A lot of our clients rely on our food weekly because they are not working, or are working but rent in the Seattle area is so incredibly high; we serve about 2,500 families a month."
However, the help is often not enough, and James stressed the importance of receiving material and monetary donations from South End residents to provide enough for the adults and children depending on the NWCS Food Bank. James also noted there is a need for more local grocery stores to donate food or money to the food bank.
With school back in session, James said the food bank is now scrambling to help out needy students with classroom supplies and backpacks for children of all ages.
Also, with the advent of fall weather, the food bank is also looking for donations of cold-weather clothing of all sizes for needy children, from infants to teens.
Volunteers, Val Berger and Dac Nguyen are responsible for inventory of the cold storage that holds approximately 15,000 pounds of food and the freezer that holds approximately 20,000 pounds. At the beginning of September, they noted that the cold storage was about a third full, and the freezer just under half full, but it is not enough to feed the NWCS Food Bank clients.
"Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline are wonderful organizations. Without their help we could not survive as a community food bank," James said. "But we also need donations from the community we serve in order to have enough donations to ensure that we can serve anyone that comes to us for help.
"The point I am making is that it is very important to get as much support and donations from the communities we serve, or we will not have enough food, clothing or toys to distribute to our large clientele."
The Northwest Community Services Food Bank, 4205 Rainier Ave. S., may be reached at 723-4105 or email@example.com Call for food distribution and donation times as well as to inquire about volunteering. NWCS Food Bank volunteers can coordinate with neighborhood residents to pick up donations of food, clothing, baby and school supplies.
For information about Northwest Harvest, call 800-722-6924, and for information about Food Lifeline dial 545-6600.