How is the West Seattle Food bank faring after SNAP benefits cut?
It's easy to forget that hunger persists, even in a city as affluent as Seattle.
Agencies like the West Seattle Food bank (WSFB) work daily to meet that need often against a rising number of people seeking assistance. That job got tougher at the end of February when the emergency allotments, due to the pandemic, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) emergency allotments (EAs) were cut. The allotments were temporary benefit increases that Congress enacted to address rising food insecurity and provide economic stimulus.
This benefit cut for every SNAP household meant they would receive $95 a month less. Some households, who under regular SNAP rules receive low benefits because they have somewhat higher, but still modest incomes, saw reductions of $250 a month or more.
A study estimated that EAs kept 4.2 million people above the poverty line in the last quarter of 2021, reducing poverty by 10 percent ― and child poverty by 14 percent.
Westside Seattle spoke with WSFB Development Director Breanna Bushaw about the loss of those benefits and what the food bank is doing to adjust.
"We knew it was a temporary increase in SNAP benefits. said Bushaw, "and we are already seeing the impacts of that....we are seeing people who are coming to the food bank, needing to get more food. We don't put limits on who can shop at the food bank, but there are certain limits on how much people can get based on the number of individuals in the household that they're shopping for. We want to make sure there is enough for everyone."
What kind of foods do they need?
"Eggs are always the big one, you know, even for people just shopping at their local grocery store. We're experiencing that egg shortage due to supply chain issues.
The milk, eggs, bread, produce are in demand, but we've still been able to keep them in stock and keep meeting the needs of our neighbors, even with the supply chain issues and inflation.
The demand is in fact increasing Bushaw said, "We have seen a big change. Just if we look at 2019 numbers before COVID to our 2022 numbers, we saw a 25% increase in the amount of people that are shopping or visiting.
The food bank serves between 300 to 500 families a day and about 1500 weekly.
"A lot of that is the lasting impacts of COVID. .. And then we also have inflation costs that are affecting everyone. Seattle is an expensive area to live in. It's on average 36% more for housing in Seattle than the national average.When people come to the food bank it might help them not have to make the choice between buying food to feed their family, paying their rent, clothing or paying for healthcare and medication."
The food bank has evolved over time adding new dimensions and services.
"We started out as a small food bank over 30 years ago... And we've grown to mobile food banks and home delivery and backpack programs and our Pet Pantry and Baby Child corner, just within the food bank. And then in. March 2020, right as the pandemic was happening, we merged with the West Seattle Helpline. which was another organization in our building. They were already providing rental assistance and emergency funding for families to help keep the lights on and keep families in their home and prevent homelessness. They also had the Clothesline, a free clothing bank in West Seattle as well on 41st and Genesee Street next to West Seattle Christian Church. It is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays from 12:50.
People can make an appointment by just calling the Food Bank, but they also take walk-ins as well, and we're always looking for donations for gently used clothes. And it's all ages from kids to adults."
We're always looking for men's clothes. That's always our biggest need. And then also larger sizes.
Socks and underwear are a really big need, and that's something that we use funding to purchase new to make sure that those needs are met. Also, having warm coats for all ages is important, our jackets go very quickly."
What about volunteers?
"We are always looking for volunteers... We do like to have volunteers that can commit to a little bit of a schedule. It just helps us be able to plan for things."
While every food bank takes and appreciates the donation of non-perishable food items, the truth is that they can make even small donations go a long way because they can buy in bulk. A check feeds more people.
But because hunger is an ongoing need they have programs of regular support too.
Their Circle of Neighbors program makes it possilble to set up a reoccurring donation in any amount that is meaningful for you.
Events the food bank relies on for support include Instruments of Change
and the Taste of West Seattle.
Instruments of Change "is our annual gala and fundraiser. We have had that virtually in the past and last year we did a hybrid model... We talked to our donors and neighbors this year who have attended and a lot of people are feeling comfortable in person, so we decided to move it to an all in person event on May 6 at the Hall at Fauntleroy. Tickets are on sale for an early bird price right now at $125"
A Taste of West Seattle is also back live this year on Sept. 28, featuring dozens of West Seattle restaurants, again, at the Hall at Fauntleroy.
Other support comes from local grocers and retailers who donate produce near expiration and other donations:
Pet Pantry Partners:
·Addy's Pet Shop
·Lien Animal Clinic
·Next to Nature
·Pet Supplies Plus
·West Seattle Animal Hospital
West Seattle Thriftway Receipts:
West Seattle Thriftway will donate 1% of your grocery receipts. You can mail or drop off receipts at West Seattle Food Bank
One issue every charitable organization faces is "Charity fatigue" with so many appeals for help in the world.
"I think what's really important is for people just to donate where it is meaningful to them and what feels like is making a big impact for them...My advice to people with charity fatigue would be to put your money where your values are."
People who need the foodbank can appear to come from all walks of life, Bushaw said, "The reality is you might not know their story. I've heard of people that have nice cars. They might have a Mercedes and they come to the food bank and then you find out later they're sleeping in that car and maybe it's somebody who is leaving a domestic violent relationship and that's all they have. You just can't judge a book by its cover, and you don't know what people are going through.... we just want to keep those barriers low...so when people come to the food bank, they feel comfortable... everyone has a story and a reason why they're here.