Since 1977, the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County has served the hungry and provided relief to individuals and families in crisis. But now, the program is the one in crisis.
In desperate need of donations to keep feeding the hungry, the program is turning down requests for food.
It has suffered cuts in funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Washington State Emergency Food Assistance Program and grants from King County cities. It has lost $30,000 in contributions from the now-discontinued Seattle Employees Food Fund. In addition, donations are far short of the program's goal of $245,000 and gasoline costs are higher.
Despite the recent Mayor's Day of Concern for the Hungry annual food drive, which collected 48 tons of food for the program, volunteers didn't collect as many high-demand items as needed. As a result, the program was forced to dip into its dwindling reserves to purchase those items. With the reduction in donations and funding, as well as staff cuts, the program must raise more than $60,000 by the end of year.
"This year's been real tough financially for us due to a number of different cutbacks that we've experienced, so we're just kind of struggling along here," said the Rev. Sam Osborne, the program's development director. "We're just a little bit behind on our deliveries this month because we've been short on some items and the cash to buy those items."
Osborne said he received a call from one of the sites saying people are coming in asking them to bring in items by the end of the week.
"In the history of our program, we've never had a need for assistance (like this)," said Arthur Lee, executive director of the Emergency Food Program. "We've been blessed and have never had to say 'no' to individuals — but at this point, we may be approaching a time when we have to scale back significantly on our distribution to meet the continuing growing need.
"It's unfortunate that the need for assistance and requests for services have continued to climb, especially in our program."
The program is different than other food banks in that it provides immediate assistance to those in need. Some families either aren't eligible to use the local food bank or need to feed their children immediately and can't wait for the food bank to open the next day.
The program expects to hand out more than 20,000 emergency food bags this year and distribute them to over 85 different social service agencies, faith groups and other organizations throughout King County.
Because its clientele is diverse, the program makes 14 different basic emergency food packs that provide a household with a two-day supply (breakfast, lunch and dinner) of nutritious, high-quality food. Three sizes — small, medium and large — of the basic packs are available depending on the size of the household. For those with special dietary needs, bags for individuals requiring low-sodium, low-sugar and vegan foods can be provided, along with Asian and Latino bags and "no-cook" packs for homeless individuals and families.
The food that goes into those bags is not available through the wholesaler, so it is isn't covered by a wholesale purchase, Lee said. "We rely heavily on donations for us to help purchase those particular products."
In addition, the program distributes two different types of infant packs but is having to turn down requests at some sites.
"We don't have the money to buy formula right now; we've been out of it for awhile and we have a lot of orders that we are unable to fulfill," Osborne said.
Through the distribution of 10,481 food bags by the end of September, the program served 238,967 meals to 39,800 people. It serves 2,000 to 2,500 clients per month.
The program recently had to scale back its distribution of food packs and may have to discontinue its teen snack pack. The nutritious teen pack originally was designed with homeless teenagers in mind and is also popular with the homeless since they require no heating or refrigeration.
"We're looking for increased funding and a major and/or significant donations or contribution for those particular items that go in those particular packs," Lee said.
"The one thing we need is a significant increase in donations of special products, and especially the infant packs," he added.
For more information about the Emergency Feeding Program of Seattle and King County, or to find out how you can help, call 206-329-0300 or visit www.emergencyfeeding.org.