Mission Nonprofit Spotlight: Thurston County Food Bank

Each month, Thurston Community Media (TCMedia)’s Mission Nonprofit connects with local organizations and agencies that are making positive impacts in our communities. This month, Mission Nonprofit host Andrea Capere sat down with Robert Coit, executive director, Judy Jones, development director, and Heather Sundean, operations manager, for the Thurston County Food Bank.

Thurston County Food Bank has been helping address hunger in our community since 1972. The Food Bank serves all of Thurston County, reducing access barriers by operating out of 18 satellite Food Banks. What’s more, they also have 9 mobile food banks that go to low income neighborhoods, primarily mobile home parks and apartment complexes. And, they partner with four school districts to distribute weekend food bags at 33 elementary schools and one Head Start Program. At its core, their mission is “to eliminate hunger within our community.”

“Over the years we’ve redefined what hunger is and we redefined our communities,” says Coit, “so currently our service area includes Lewis and Mason Counties.” Coit goes on to say that about one in five children in Washington State and in Thurston County are hungry. While many take advantage of free or reduced school lunches, there are gaps during that service, including during summer, winter and spring breaks.

For adults, the Thurston County Food Bank is serving roughly 22 percent of our County’s population, or 57,000 adults in 15,000 low- and moderate-income households.

Overcoming Access Barriers

Coit explains that there are a few access barriers when it comes to people utilizing the Thurston County Food Bank. Language is a big one, but so are preconceived notions such as what a food bank is or isn’t, income limitations or a lot of rules. To combat this, The Thurston County Food Bank works a lot on awareness, targeting these groups and helping people understand what the Food Bank is and who it’s for, which is not just low-income households.

“If you can imagine there are times of the year where it’s harder to meet your household budget and so food becomes a cash equivalent,” explains Coit. “So, they’ll use a trip to the Food Bank to pay the rent. Use a trip to the food bank to fix your car, or whatever the need, this eases your household budget. That’s one of the ways hunger essentially has been redefined because really it’s about a family managing their household budget and not just the physical effects of hunger over time.” He mentions that they see the moderate-income families most in the summer or between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when they have a lot of costs to juggle.

Another part of overcoming access barriers is growing to fill needs and create ease of access, which includes opening more satellite Food Banks. “We were able to identify that almost 25 percent of the folks who are coming downtown, identified as living in Lacey, so our focus then became developing services in Lacey, recognizing that that’s a barrier, that’s a long way to come for people who are struggling to make ends meet to make it to our downtown facility,” says Jones.  So now they have a new Lacey Food Bank opening end of June 2019. The new building will have some unique features, including a farm stand with fresh produce, as well as a food pantry similar to the own in downtown Olympia.

The Thurston County Food banks works with over 70 organizations in the area to help end hunger as well as having several federal programs at their disposal, including the SNAP and nutrition education for schools.

One of Coit’s favorite things they do are their birthday bags, with cake mixes, frosting, party favors, a small gift, candles, school supplies, for children. Little things to throw a birthday party for a child. “We have a community member that works for a taxing authority, Intercity Transit, and she does a drive pretty much every month at work to get cake mix and frosting,” shares Coit, “and I love her quote, and her quote is basically, ‘I can’t change the world, but I can make sure I child has a birthday cake on her birthday,’ and that has become sort of the motto of the program.”

If you would like to get involved, volunteers are always needed. One volunteer project is “gleaning” where volunteers go to partner farms and harvest the leftover produce that would normally go to waste. To learn more about helping end community hunger, watch the above video and visit the Thurston County Food Bank website.

You can watch Mission Nonprofit on channel 77 on Sundays at 4:30 p.m., Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. You can also watch on TCMedia.org, Video On-Demand or our Roku channel. To learn more about what TCMedia does, visit the Thuston Community Media YouTube channel or the TC Media website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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