Each year, more than 700,000 free meals are served to the hungry in Spokane, according to the director of a nonprofit agency that gleans leftover food from area restaurants and distributes it to charities.
“Even those of us in the business weren’t fully aware of the extent of the need,” said Maurice Smith, of Feed Spokane, who started keeping track about three years ago of who is feeding the poor and who is being fed.
Currently about 14,000 meals a week are being served to people in need at 30 sites in the Spokane area, he said.
On Tuesday, Feed Spokane will begin collecting unused prepared food from Northern Quest Casino, a huge addition to the movement to eliminate waste and hunger in the community.
Smith estimates unused food from the casino may provide 1,000 meals a month.
Adding the casino to the list of about two dozen area restaurants and caterers couldn’t come at a better time, said Smith. He describes the current state of need in Spokane as “a perfect storm,” in which more people are falling into poverty at a time when businesses are able to give less.
Smith said charities and social service organizations have seen a 30 percent decrease in donations this year as the “recession has taken people who were living at the margin and pushed them” into poverty.
“Every site I work with says they are seeing more people,” he said.
For example, the Truth Ministries homeless shelter has begun serving free meals to as many as a dozen walk-ins in addition to residents of the shelter in recent months, Smith said.
Meanwhile, the Davenport Hotel – Feed Spokane’s largest donor up until now – had to cut its food contributions in half as its convention business declined, he said.
Unused food from the Davenport’s banquet kitchen is frozen and delivered to the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant, which feeds about 125 people three times a week. If there is anything left over, it will be sent to other meal sites, such as Hope House or Crosswalk, Smith said.
Spokane’s capacity for generosity and volunteerism seems bottomless, Smith said.
“I am amazed at how much gets done in Spokane when it comes to meeting the needs of those in crisis.”
Recently Coeur d’Alene Brewing donated a 20-foot refrigerated truck to Feed Spokane. The charity will put the vehicle into service Tuesday, when it picks up its first donation from Northern Quest.