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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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County funds food banks, but nonprofits say volunteers, food donations still needed

UPDATED: Tue., June 16, 2020

Second Harvest Food Bank volunteers Robert Riedel, left, and Kristen Nicholson, stack and pack dry food items into emergency baskets on April 7 for the mobile market program to be delivered to Spokane’s Northeast Youth Center.  (DAN PELLE/Spokesman-Review)
Second Harvest Food Bank volunteers Robert Riedel, left, and Kristen Nicholson, stack and pack dry food items into emergency baskets on April 7 for the mobile market program to be delivered to Spokane’s Northeast Youth Center. (DAN PELLE/Spokesman-Review)

Spokane County awarded Second Harvest $2.1 million in Federal COVID-19 aid to purchase food and pay for increased transportation costs, but nonprofits say they still need more support from the community.

Second Harvest funds more than 90 food programs in the county, 22 are emergency food outlets. Chief of Staff for Second Harvest Drew Meuer said the award will help the nonprofit meet the increased need due to the pandemic. He said Second Harvest has been been distributing double, and sometimes more, the food it did before the pandemic and frequently runs out of food during large one-day distribution events.

The $2.1 million the county awarded to Second Harvest was from the CARES Act, which Congress intended to be used for COVID-19 aid, economic stimulus and recovery. Spokane County was paid about $90 million from the U.S. Treasury Department and is the only government in Eastern Washington large enough to receive a direct payment. County Commissioners voted to also use that aid to fund the Spokane Regional Health District’s contact tracing efforts and a free PPE program for businesses.

Meuer said the funding will mostly provide prepackaged food that can go from storage to food boxes quickly and will cover the cost of drivers and transportation.

“We’re certainly grateful to the county and commissioners for feeding kids, their families and seniors who are at risk because of the pandemic,” he said.

Meuer said Second Harvest surveyed people using the food bank and found that 40% of participants were seeking assistance for the first time. He said he anticipated the high use of food banks could continue for a year or more, as it did during the 2008 financial crisis.

Maj. Ken Perrine, leader of the Spokane Salvation Army, said he feared the Salvation Army’s food bank would have a shortage of food and volunteers if it didn’t receive help from the community soon.

The Salvation Army as well as Spokane Valley Partners, two large area food banks, receive supplies from Second Harvest, but often also rely heavily on donations dropped off by community members.

Perrine said demand for food has gone up 50%, but the two food sources the organization historically relies upon, donations dropped off by community members and excess food from grocery stores, have decreased dramatically. He said purchasing food has also been more difficult and takes longer than usual because of the strain on the food-supply chain around the country.

He said he’s hoping people who stockpiled food and ended up not needing as much as they purchased, will consider donating their supplies.

“(If you) purchased an abundant supply of food at the beginning of the pandemic, and are overly stocked with items you may never use, please donate it now,” he said.

Perrine said food and cash donations would help. Cash donations are used to purchase protein items for food boxes.

Cal Coblentz, CEO of Spokane Valley Partners, said the organization had experienced similar issues and had trouble buying food sometimes.

“We’ve had to buy more food than we’ve ever bought,” he said. “Normally it just flows in and out and we don’t have to purchase much.”

The Salvation Army and Spokane Valley Partners have also lost volunteers they have depended on in the past. Perrine said the Salvation Army is currently not allowing people over the age of 65 to volunteer because they are at higher risk of more serious cases of COVID-19, which means the population that volunteers most is not packing boxes. He asked those who are furloughed or unemployed to consider volunteering a few hours a week , saying there are many ways people who are out of work can give back to their community . Anyone who is healthy and able to lift 20 pound boxes is eligible to volunteer.

Meuer said National Guard members deployed to Second Harvest have filled many gaps due to older volunteers staying home to protect their health, but the nonprofit will still need more help.

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