Food banks need help year-round

November 27, 2013 

The idea of holiday giving is intrinsically tied to food. The prime example being Mr. Scrooge delivering a Christmas goose to the impoverished Cratchit family.

Christmas and Thanksgiving — even New Year’s — is a two-month span that is a double-edged sword for families who are struggling to get by. Holidays are fun and enjoyable, but they also mean more expenses. The constant surrounding climate of commerce, food and the traditions of shopping are difficult for families that are already on a tight budget.

That’s where our area’s food banks and philanthropists step in.

The run-up to the holidays is a time when many folks chip in by donating cans of food and financial help to those less fortunate. Shelves fill up, but that food goes out very quickly.

Jan Coen, the director of the Gig Harbor/Peninsula FISH Food Bank, says everything that comes in goes right back to the community. And there’s a drop-off during the summer months, when donations are slower.

That doesn’t mean fewer people need help.

FISH had its highest intake of new clients this year — 41 — in May. On average, the food bank sees between 20 and 40 new clients each month.

There are many hardships that bring new clients to food banks. Loss of hours at work, injury and the high cost of acute medical care are among them. People don’t plan on need. In an unpredictable economy, food banks are there for families with emergencies.

The number of food-insecure households remained unchanged from 2011 to 2012. That’s a problem. The food-insecurity number should change — it should drop. Yet the number of food-insecure children was unchanged, the number of low food-insecure households was unchanged, and the overall number of food insecurity dropped a measly 0.02 percent, a shift that was found to be “statistically insignificant” by the USDA’s research team.

A modern food bank, as it’s operated today, began at a church called St. Mary’s Basilica in Phoenix, Ariz. John van Hengel, the founder, was volunteering at a soup kitchen when he heard a woman say she fed her family out of dumpsters and soup lines. That spawned an idea of having a place where those with excess could “deposit,” and those with need could “withdraw.”

Now, food banks are open all around the country, giving to those in need, hoping to make those food-insecure numbers drop. As van Hengel said: “The poor we shall always have with us, but why the hungry?”

Give generously to local food banks. There are several all across Pierce County. Make a deposit so someone in need can withdraw. And remember: It’s not just about the holidays. Those families that reported being food insecure experienced the harrowing life of no food on the table up to seven months a year.

Food banks really don’t ask for much. For example, Coen has a three-tiered caddy in the side room of the food bank. It’s full of tiny hotel shampoo bottles. Something free, relatively, to those who can pay for a hotel stay. Those little donations can wash someone’s hair for a few days, give them soap, and, in many ways, make them feel human.

As the holidays approach, there are many ways to get involved. Community drives are about more than food. Many collect coats, books and toys. But food is such a basic need that now is a good time to fill the shelves for our local food banks. Several in the Gig Harbor and Key peninsulas would be happy to take your donations:

 • Gig Harbor Peninsula Fish Food Bank, 4425 Burnham Drive, Gig Harbor.

 • Key Peninsula Community Services, 17015 9th St. Court, Key Peninsula Highway, Lakebay.

 • Biscoff FISH Food Bank, 8908 Key Peninsula Highway.

There also are many donation bins set up around town that can take food. This holiday season, give a small something to someone in need.

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