The perfect storm: A tale of two food banks

Edmonds Food Bank volunteers assemble grocery carts for each customer from the order forms submitted via the food bank’s online system. (File photo by Larry Vogel)

The story of the Edmonds Food Bank over the past five months is not unlike many other “essential businesses,” such as hospitals, fire departments, and grocery stores.  One difference, because of COVID-19, is that food banks have experienced the “perfect storm” —  a confluence of factors that has turned them upside down.

Food is made available to customers from several resources. Among them are the three major food distribution organizations in this area — Northwest Harvest, Food Lifeline and Second Harvest. Because of the pandemic, the Edmonds Food Bank is now limited to receiving food from Food Lifeline. This has greatly diminished the supply. Food Lifeline has been forced, in addition, to reduce our usual 6,000 pounds per week to about 1,500 pounds.

Other major resources are local grocery stores, which normally donate their perishable produce and meats, as well as canned and pantry goods past their “best by” dates. The pandemic caused a rush at the grocery stores. Empty shelves mean less food for food banks. Restaurants have also been generous in providing excess food supplies to the food bank. Sadly, these difficult times have caused this resource to dry up.

The lifeblood of Edmonds Food Bank is our volunteers. Normally it relies on 150 people: drivers who collect food from stores and restaurants and people who sort and repackage all of the food and display it in a grocery store style so that customers can select what they need for their families. Enter COVID-19. While the number of customers has nearly doubled, the majority of volunteers are seniors, classified as “at risk” citizens, and many have been advised to stay home.

Over the weekend of March 7, the method of operations changed from “grocery store” method to ordering online from a menu of food available printed in three languages — English, Spanish, and Russian. Customers now pick up food in a drive-through manner by appointment every Monday and Tuesday. The food bank is operating with a new workforce of volunteers working long hours, and many of these will be going back to work in the near future. Much of the food that used to be donated or sold at a discount is now being purchased at closer to retail prices.

There is good news on two fronts. The people in our community have been very generous. Some are sending notes with checks saying, “This is what we would have spent had we gone out for dinner.” Others have notified us that they are donating part of their CARE Act money from the federal government. This has greatly helped those who, for the first time ever, are facing food insecurity. It also means a lot to the volunteers to know they have the support of the community.

The second part of the good news is that a used refrigerated truck has been added to our small fleet through a generous grant from the City of Edmonds. This truck has proved invaluable. Having it allows perishable produce to be picked up and kept fresh. In addition, when it is parked at the food bank it nearly doubles refrigeration capacity.

A long-time volunteer and current board member of the Edmonds Food Bank, Stewart Terry, coordinates all of the pickups and deliveries, seven days a week. Stewart reports another new supply resource called the East West Food Rescue, which connects suppliers of surplus produce from Eastern Washington to needy families in Western Washington. Drivers go to Woodinville and pick up 2,000 to 4,000 pounds of potatoes and onions, which they have done for the past four weeks.

If you are food insecure and have access to the internet, go to and click on “Get food.” Select one of the three languages, and then complete an order. Ordering is open from 5 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Tuesday each week. If you don’t have access to the internet, come to the Edmonds Food Bank at 828 Caspers Street L100 on Mondays from 3 to 6 p.m., or Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Your order will be filled by one of our volunteer shoppers and brought out to a safe pick-up location at the food bank.

The Edmonds Food Bank stands ready to help.

— By Dick Van Hollebeke, Edmonds Food Bank board member

  1. It does not surprise me to see Dick Van Hollebeke as the author of this article. Dick has been instrumental in so many local causes and services, from ensuring the opening of Yost Pool one year, to servicng on the (then) Edmonds Community College Foundation and Board of Trustees for many uears. Our community is truly blessed with Dick and his dear wife as citizens.

  2. I echo those comments about Dick–a true Servant. My question, Dick: what is the mailing address to send a donation?

  3. Thank you to Casey, Pat, Debbie, Todd, Jennifer and all the awesome volunteers that help run the Edmonds Food Bank each and every week. I can’t adequately express in words how much each of you means to us. You’re the best!! ~Freeman Family

  4. We tried donating food to the Edmonds Food bank but I understand from their website they are not accepting food. Will this policy change?

    1. Kris Freywald, after checking with Casey, the food bank executive director, they have recently been working to fix this statement on the website. Non-perishable donations can be dropped off, with carts available just inside the doors downstairs. Perishables are possible, just need to check to be sure a volunteer is on hand, to help get them into coolers.

      For the website glitch that says “no food donations” , please copy the page link and email it, so they can get it corrected. Also our own personal computer caches on readers’ ends need to be cleared, so old pages do not come up instead of the corrected new text. Hopefully this helps!

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