Demand at food banks has already doubled as more people face unemployment in the region or need more meals at home because schools are closed. And the demand is expected to continue climbing.
That has put additional strain on the organizations supplying food banks, as they respond to new conditions amid the coronavirus.
The need for social distancing has forced food banks everywhere to transform their delivery systems, going from pantry-style browsing to emergency boxes that can be picked up curbside. It also requires a lot more space to pack them. Added to that is additional cost to procure shelf-stable items needed in the boxes — items that have become less available as consumers have snapped up stables like pasta, rice and canned goods. Responding to all of this need is a major challenge.
But a huge corporate donation in Seattle has doubled one agency’s capacity in record time – less than a week.
Food Lifeline aggregates and distributes food from its headquarters in Seattle, serving as a hub for food donations and getting them out to about 300 food banks in Western Washington.
And now it has a second distribution hub, south of downtown. Prologis, an international real estate firm based in San-Francisco, donated a huge space in SoDo.
“Over 160,000 square feet of warehouse space,” said Food Lifeline’s operations strategist, Amethyst Shipman. “It feels like about half of a football field — it’s big.”
Communications Director Chris Nishiwaki says it’s been amazing to see the new facility emerging “out of what was an empty black box” about a week ago. They’ve also received tables and chairs, pallet jacks and forklifts from other corporate donors led by Columbia Hospitality and SSA Marine.
And although Shipman’s job requires planning for worst case scenarios like a big earthquake, she never imagined this kind of response could be possible, so quickly.
“It’s been really remarkable to see the creativity and the tenacity and the high level of problem solving that has come out of this really unfortunate and horrible situation,” Shipman said.
Nishiwaki says it’s both humbling and inspiring to see these corporate donors step up.
“They didn’t have to do this,” he said, adding that it keeps you going, even when you’re working long hours and dealing with your own concerns because of the coronavirus. “When someone’s that generous… you feel like you have to live up to that generosity. It really moves you to pursue this to the best of your ability.”
The donations came through after Food Lifeline had already transformed its operations within a few short weeks to enable appropriate social distancing and the emergency boxes needed to keep people safe and fed.
The new warehouse is expected to be up and running on Monday, with hundreds of new volunteers as well as likely help from the Washington National Guard and the Red Cross.