The Emergency Food Network is the backbone of food distribution in Pierce County. With over 75 food pantries and hot food sites, the EFN distributed 15.5 million pounds of food over the past year. This includes everything from canned goods to fresh produce. And with the cost of just about everything rising, so too does the need. Michelle Douglas, CEO of the Emergency Food Network, explains that with the right resources, more volunteers, more funding, and more donations, this increase in need can be met.

“Rising cost of food is really impactful for us,” explains Douglas. “We get donated products, but the cost of trucking has gone up from about $900 to $1600 per load.” Even the price of chicken has gone up 30 cents per pound since March of this year. Inflation, rise of gas costs, and even the war in Ukraine are all contributing factors of this.

Emergency Food Network Pierce County
Buying in bulk and repackaging food is an essential way to keep costs down. Photo courtesy: Emergency Food Network

“It’s kind of a perfect storm we’re in right now,” says Douglas. “And not a storm we’ll be able to buy ourselves out of. We’ll have to be creative, as a country, how to get people fed.” The underlying issue surrounding that is that a lot of pandemic relief given by local and federal authorities has either expired or is set to expire in only a few short months. And things being as they are, there’s no real plan on how they’re going to solve the ongoing problem. Also, a lot of programs that remain are returning to 2018 levels in terms of financial support. “Our numbers are nowhere near those levels,” explains Douglas. “It’s not an issue in Pierce County. This is across the country and the world entire.”

So, what can we do to help? According to Douglas, this involves a three-pronged attack of more volunteers, more funding, and more donations.

The need for volunteers is higher than ever before. “We lost 60 percent of them since COVID,” she explains. And while they still have some 1,800 active volunteers now, they can use so many more. Sign-up is quick and easy, with jobs ranging from weeding at their Mother Earth Farm in Puyallup, repacking bulk shipments into family-sized portions in their Lakewood Distribution Center, and most recently, delivering food directly with their Home Delivery Program.

Emergency Food Network Pierce County
Every item donated to the EFN gets sorted by a host of eager volunteers. Photo courtesy: Emergency Food Network

The Home Delivery Program began when the COVID pandemic turned the world upside down. According to Douglas, it fulfills a need for those currently COVID positive, those who are immunocompromised, or those who are otherwise physically unable to make the trip to the nearest food pantry. Since its inception, the Home Delivery Program now serves over 200 families weekly. And while this seems like it might be a complicated logistical mess, the EFN prides themselves on organization and efficiency. “You sign up for a shift of your choice,” explains Douglas. “And you decide how you want to participate for that day. A lot of our drivers, they arrive here, we have designated loads, and we help them load their cars. We provide them with a route map, and they just track it through. We even do really specific route mapping based on people’s abilities.”

Emergency Food Network
Mother Earth Garden in Puyallup is a great place to volunteer during the growing season. Photo courtesy: Emergency Food Network

Douglas also made it a point to mention their AmeriCorps VISTA program opportunity. Each year, EFN hosts an AmeriCorps VISTA member to serve as their Home Delivery Program Associate. It’s an excellent position for anyone interested in programming, nonprofits, data management, or direct service. They essentially help the EFN staff, home delivery recipients, and volunteer drivers to manage delivery schedules and details.

For those who may not have the time to offer, donations and funding will, and will always be, an essential part of keeping the machine running. “The best thing to do is be a Supper Club member,” she says. The Supper Club is a way for members to give a set amount monthly. This is especially helpful for budgeting purposes and leveraging getting the most with what they’ve got. “We proactively plan to be reactive,” says Douglas. “We don’t know what’s coming every day, but we’re always prepared to say yes.”

These days, perhaps especially these days, with so many things spiraling out of our control, it can feel overwhelming to pinpoint where we can make the most significant impact on our community. To this, Douglas was quick to reference a famous line from legendary folk singer Joan Baez, stating, “Action is the antidote to despair.”

Emergency Food Network Pierce County
The EFN distributes vegetables grown in their own Mother Earth Farm in Puyallup. Photo courtesy: Emergency Food Network

“Hungry adults can’t work,” she adds. “Hungry kids can’t thrive. Nobody thrives if they can’t eat. We’re not talking about ‘I have all I want to eat.’ We’re talking about having our basics met.”

Anyone looking to volunteer at the Emergency Food Network, click here. Anyone willing to donate, click here.

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