University District Food Bank Programs
Our primary service to the community is a food bank, open five days a week, to low income residents from across Northeast Seattle (zip codes 98102, 98103, 98105, 98112, 98115 and 98125). Our food bank is arranged like a small grocery store and customers have the freedom to choose the groceries that they want and need from across the food pyramid (fruits, vegetables, meats/beans, dairy and grains/cereal). We provide each household that visits us with three days worth of food. This food includes an abundance of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables plus a variety of canned and dry goods that can be used to prepare meals at home. For families with infants, we offer diapers, baby food, formula and cereal at every visit. For families with pets, we offer cat and/or dog food. We also provide a limited amount of toiletries.
For individuals homebound by age, disability or sickness/injury, we offer a weekly food home delivery service. This service delivers the same healthy food available at food bank using a network of volunteer drivers. By working with community partners, we have successfully identified many individuals aging in place in their homes so our service allows them to maintain their independence.
We also offer a growing benefits outreach program. Using a trained volunteer, we connect interested customers to Basic Food and a utility discount program. While reasonably small in scope, we have a very high approval rate for the applications we have facilitated. And, with the introduction of the online benefits portal Washington Connection, we expect to increase the number of customers we work with each week, shorten the application time and increase our success rate even more.
Recent Successes and Current Challenges
This past spring, working with a team of volunteers from the community, we defined, recruited and convened the first meeting of our Customer Advisory Council. This diverse group of 20+ food bank customers is tasked with providing valuable insight and feedback to the University District Food Bank Board of Directors on the work that we are doing. Meeting quarterly, the Council will advise us on short term changes that we can make to enhance the customer shopping experience, comment on new programs that we are considering to ensure their appropriateness and effectiveness and review our overall work against our mission to help us remain relevant to the true needs of low income families in our community. Already, as a result of the advisory council, we have improved signage in the food bank, changed some of our food buying practices and recruited new volunteers with specialized language skills. However, even with this important accomplishment, we still know that it can only help so much given our greatest need.
For anyone coming to our food bank, it is quite obvious that our greatest need is finding a larger and improved facility to house our operations. We regularly turn away perishable donations because of insufficient storage space. We are inaccessible to disabled individuals because of our basement location. And our 800 square foot distribution area stays crowded most of the 25 hours that we are open to customers each week. Fortunately, with two other partners, we have identified a nearby space that can be developed as a new food bank (along with offering 50 units of housing for formerly homeless young adults). Our current need is to raise the $2.5-$3 million that we will need to build, move into and operate that space as our new food bank. This new home will allow us to accomplish our mission more effectively as we will be able to distribute more food each week, be able to accommodate continued customer growth into the foreseeable future and become much more effective at connecting customers to community resources that will help them move towards self-sufficiency. Capital fund dollars are needed to make this facility a reality.