During outbreak, parishes adapt to continue feeding the hungry

  • Written by Nathan Whalen
  • Published in Local
People line up on chalk lines, spaced 6 feet apart, outside The Food Bank @ St. Mary’s in Seattle’s Central District on March 18. The food bank staff created the lines on the sidewalk to help clients with “social distancing” as they wait to enter the food bank. Photo: Courtesy The Food Bank @ St. Mary’s People line up on chalk lines, spaced 6 feet apart, outside The Food Bank @ St. Mary’s in Seattle’s Central District on March 18. The food bank staff created the lines on the sidewalk to help clients with “social distancing” as they wait to enter the food bank. Photo: Courtesy The Food Bank @ St. Mary’s

Even with restrictions during the coronavirus outbreak, some parishes in the Archdiocese of Seattle are finding ways to keep feeding their hungry neighbors, as well as children who are home because of the statewide cancellation of classes.

At The Food Bank @ St Mary’s in Seattle’s Central District, “social distancing” is evident — the staff has marked out 6-foot sections on the sidewalk to show where clients should stand while waiting, said Bruce Wood, the food bank’s executive director.

“As you can imagine, our lines are around the block right now,” Wood said, and people are being allowed inside one at a time.

The food bank, located at St. Mary Parish, serves 16,000 to 18,000 people every month, but the numbers are about half right now as people apparently heed the call to stay home, Wood said. The numbers started declining when the schools closed, but the food bank is receiving more emergency requests for food, he added.

The St. Mary’s food bank also delivers 200 meals to homebound people each week, Wood said. Drivers, who are wearing gloves, drop off the food and knock on the door before leaving.

“We’re completely eliminating face-to-face on our homebound deliveries,” Wood said.

The Tri-Parish Food Bank at St. Charles Parish in Burlington, which is open Saturday afternoons, is preparing to operate a drive-through food bank, said co-director Bonnie Baker.

“We are working hard to keep volunteers (many who are elderly) and clients safe,” Baker said in an email.

The food bank is a partnership of St. Charles, Sacred Heart Parish in La Conner and Immaculate Conception Parish in Mount Vernon.

“As the grocery store shelves continue to be empty, we anticipate seeing more clients. Last week was higher than usual,” Baker said. “We are purchasing many new items that we normally don’t have to purchase (brown paper grocery bags, more gloves than usual, more sanitizer than usual).”

People can help by continuing to donate, especially canned meat, chili and fruit; peanut butter in plastic jars; rice; ramen noodles; and large-size diapers.

In Tacoma at St. Leo the Great Parish, volunteers at St. Leo Food Connection are bagging food and setting items outside for families to pick up, rather than having them come inside and shop for items, said director Kevin Glackin-Coley.

On March 17, 270 households with about 700 people picked up food, Glackin-Coley said. In 2019, 130,000 people were served at the Tacoma food bank, with another 16,000 using the mobile food bank in Lakewood’s Springbrook neighborhood.

So far this year, the number of people using food banks in Pierce County has jumped, with 10,000 more people seeking assistance in January and 30,000 more in February, Glackin-Coley said.

“This month was a more dramatic increase and it looks like it’s going to increase for a number of months to come” as more people are out of work, he said. Cash donations are the best way to help right now, he added.

In Seattle, the Cathedral Kitchen at St. James Cathedral continues operating, but it is offering bag dinners for pickup instead of a sit-down dinner weekdays and breakfast on Sundays, according to Patrick Barredo, the cathedral’s social outreach and advocacy director.

“It’s a simple meal, but we’re still feeding people,” Barredo said, noting that 64 people picked up Sunday breakfast on March 15 and 180 people received dinner on March 13.

Volunteers at the Queen Anne Food Bank, operating at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Seattle, have started bagging food for people to pick up and currently aren’t asking visitors to verify their home addresses, said Stephen Kreins, operations manager.

The number of volunteers at the food bank has dropped from 40 to about 20, he said. “A lot of our volunteers are between 60 and 80,” Kreins said, and many are concerned about limiting contact with others.

With school closed across the state, Food Connection and St. Mary’s continue their work supplying hungry students with food on the weekend. St. Mary’s, which has provided 300–350 bags a month to local schools, is part of a newly centralized process in collaboration with the Seattle Food Committee.

“We’re trying to band together with all the food banks to share the burden,” Wood said, noting that St. Mary’s will assemble 150 bags for students.

The Food Connection provides 1,125 bags each week for students in 37 schools in the Tacoma and Clover Park school districts, Glackin-Coley said. With schools closed, Food Connection is partnering with the districts to provide weekend food bags for families at self-pickup sites.