Thursday, August 5, 2021

WSDA grant funds new offices for Pierce County food bank, projects statewide in support of food assistance

Hector Castro
WSDA Communications

The new office building for the Emergency Food Network, tucked just off South Tacoma Way in Lakewood, is a simple, modular building across the street from the organization’s food distribution warehouse.

New offices for the Emergency Food Network.
There is a tidy vegetable garden out front and 10 offices inside that open onto an ample meeting room. Construction of the $622,000 office building was one of dozens of projects funded statewide through a WSDA grant program for food assistance organizations.

To Michelle Douglas, CEO of the Emergency Food Network, the building’s very existence is worth celebrating.

“We could not be more excited for our new building and the impact it will have on our work,” she said in a statement announcing the building’s ribbon cutting ceremony last week.

New offices were on EFN’s to-do list for the past few years, but the COVID-19 pandemic made the need acute. Like many food assistance providers, EFN saw a huge increase in need as the pandemic spread, distributing 19.5 million pounds of food in 2020, compared to 14 million pounds the year before. The rising workload meant EFN needed more staff, but employees were already squeezed in the limited office space available at their warehouse.

The WSDA supplemental capacity grant, $576,000 to EFN, was enough to complete the project.

Grant program supports to food assistance statewide

The WSDA supplemental capacity grants were funded through $6.4 million provided by the Legislature in the last session, using funds provided earlier from federal COVID relief money.

WSDA Director Sandison speaking at the ribbon cutting for
the new building for the Emergency Food Network.

The grants were meant to address the pressures on the state’s emergency food system. There was one catch – the money had to be spent by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, with most of the grants awarded in March and April.

Nevertheless, WSDA managed to provide grants to more than 80 food assistance organizations in 25 Washington counties, with awards ranging from $2,400 to $700,000.

The grants funded a box truck with a lift gate for a food bank in Yakima County, a walk-in cooler for another organization in Whatcom County, as well as building improvements, freezers, pallet jacks, shelving, forklifts, and other vehicles for food assistance operations statewide.

Michelle Douglas (L) is CEO of the Emergency Food Network.
Also pictured: WSDA Director Sandison and communications
director Hector Castro, EFN development director Elizabeth Howe (R).
(Photo credit: Emergency Food Network)
“Agriculture has always been about feeding people,” WSDA Director Derek Sandison said. “Making sure that our food assistance safety net remains strong and robust is a natural extension of what we do at WSDA. As the need remains high, we plan to continue efforts like these to provide on-going support for food assistance providers and the communities they serve.”

WSDA distributes millions of dollars annually through its Food Assistance Program, contracting with hunger relief organizations and Tribes in all 39 counties to make sure government-funded food assistance resources are available to people across the state. The agency also administers U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that bring not just dollars, but millions of dollars’ worth of food into food banks, food pantries, and tribal programs.

Dona Ponepinto, president of United Way of Pierce County,
with EFN's Douglas and WSDA Director Sandison.
The van was donated by the United Way.
(Photo credit: Emergency Food Network)
But in 2020, WSDA had to increase its food assistance efforts in response
to the need for food assistance brought on by the pandemic and related economic hardship. The agency was able to obtain additional state and federal COVID-relief funds, using the money to buy food, supplies and other materials needed to support food assistance efforts statewide.

Money for the supplemental capacity grants is just one of the appropriations legislators provided to WSDA this past session in support of on-going food assistance efforts, including an additional $23 million to increase support for hunger relief organizations, farm to community initiatives, local food purchasing, and capacity grants. The next round of grant applications will be coming in early fall.

You can read more about WSDA’s efforts in our Ag Briefs blog post, “Food security during COVID-19, WSDA rises to the challenge” and this infographic, “Food security during COVID-19.”