If 2020 taught us anything, it’s the world is uncertain and life as we know it can change quickly. The pandemic brought not only massive social adjustments but sometimes colossal economic changes as well. For many, this meant not enough food for the dinner table. With a rise in need growing high and fast, organizations like the Emergency Food Network have been tasked to do, well, a lot more.
The Emergency Food Network is no stranger to logistics. Annually, the EFN provides over 14 million pounds of food to over 70 food pantries, meal sites and shelters across Pierce County. That distribution assists over 1.3 million people.
The organization is also responsible for the operation of Mother Earth Farm, an eight-acre farm that grows over 160,000 pounds of fresh, organic food annually, which is also distributed out via partner programs. And this is all before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our mission to provide Pierce County with a consistent, diverse and nutritious food supply so that no person goes hungry is more important than ever,” explains Elizabeth Howe, Development Director at the EFN. “Before the pandemic, we already knew that one in seven people in Pierce County were food insecure. In the first six months of the pandemic, we saw an increase of 50,000 visits per month from last year’s food pantry visits. The demand for food has drastically increased the need for food assistance and the availability of food has also been an issue.”
To that end, the EFN adapted to the growing need. Not only that, they had to figure out a way to do it both effectively and safely. “We had to pivot a lot of our practices in early March to promote social distancing and safety measures,” recalls Howe. “Which included starting our home delivery program that provides community members with food delivered to their homes on a recurring basis. This program is run through our staff and our incredible team of volunteer drivers. Each week our warehouse, development and admin teams work together to make sure everyone signed up for the program is confirmed to receive food and then coordinate the deliveries and procure the food to be distributed. We are so proud of our team for stepping up to meet this need in the pandemic.”
The home delivery program is quite a success. Volunteers deliver food to 200 families every week. Even the food banks themselves have taken notice of the extra work. “[The EFN has] helped us in all the best ways with delivery, product and function,” says Stacey Crnich, Executive Director of the Bonney Lake Food Bank. “These extra emergency boxes are just incredible. It’s been daunting, but we are all keeping smiles on our faces and living in the moment of thankfulness. Life is good. We are healthy. Our clients are being fed. Days are long. Bodies are sore. But we are happy to still be open and serving.”
Emergency Food Network’s successes go beyond just the new home delivery program. With the help of partners like Pierce County, the City of Tacoma, local foundations and donations from the general public, the EFN was able to spend an additional $1.3 million on food since March. They were also able to get volunteers and staff the personal protective equipment they need, such as gloves, hand sanitizer and face masks, so the warehouses can remain open and the food can keep coming.
More recently, the EFN extended their partnerships to include sites in Fife, the Puyallup Tribe, Graham and at the Tacoma Community House to help fill gaps for food access in those areas.
For anyone looking to donate food, donations can be dropped off at the Lakewood Distribution Center Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Alternately, you can donate directly to a local food pantry in the area.
While volume for specific items varies, the EFN is always looking for peanut butter (or any nut butter), canned fruits and vegetables (low sugar and sodium preferred), baby food and formula, canned chili or stew (with pop up lids) and canned proteins (such as chicken, tuna, and Spam). “Your help is necessary for us to continue to serve members of our shared community,” says Howe.
For those interested in volunteering or donating, register here. Drivers are especially wanted! Anyone feeling food insecure and in need of help should sign up here. Those looking for the home delivery program are encouraged to register here.
Emergency Food Network
3318 92nd St. S.