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Gates Foundation gives $1.4 million to food banks

Second Harvest Inland Northwest and two other regional food relief agencies will receive $1.4 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help families during the recession.

In the past, the Gates Foundation has helped house the homeless in the Northwest, but this is the organization’s first major effort to feed the region’s hungry.

“It will increase our ability to get food out there,” said Jason Clark, Second Harvest director.

In the past couple of years, Clark said, Second Harvest has helped to feed about 15,000 people a month. But in August, that number jumped to about 17,000 people and stayed there.

Second Harvest’s share of the grant, about $300,000, will be used to expand the agency’s revolving purchase program, Clark said. As the Inland Northwest’s largest food distribution center, Second Harvest purchases high-demand items in bulk at a deep discount and passes those savings along to neighborhood food banks.

“Most of our food is donated, but as demand grows we need more food in the system,” Clark said. The food industry, a major source of donations, is facing challenging times as well and tightening up on surplus items. “The revolving purchase program is another avenue of getting food we need.”

Clark said Second Harvest has had a relationship with the Gates Foundation dating back five years, when the philanthropic organization contributed $50,000 to help renovate the Second Harvest warehouse.

The other food relief agencies sharing the grant announced on Thursday are Food Lifeline in Western Washington and the Oregon Food Bank in Portland. The foundation estimates the money will be used to purchase more than 23 million pounds of food.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.