Renton food banks facing steep shortages

Increase in need and a decrease in donations and volunteers create a crisis among aid agencies.

As Thanksgiving approaches, food banks are noticing a frightening trend this year of increasing demand but a decreasing number of donations and volunteers.

The Salvation Army Renton Rotary Food Bank typically has enough turkeys the week before Thanksgiving, however Community Programs Manager Martha Barrett said that their need is surprisingly dire now. They have nearly 600 families listed in need of turkeys. So far, one local church has committed to providing 300 turkeys, but that’s all.

“By this time [last year], we had all the turkeys we needed,” Barrett said.

Last year, Salvation Army provided almost 900 turkeys to families in need

She also said there is an alarming need for volunteers, especially for bell ringers. Salvation Army typically stations bell ringers at 28 grocery stores across Renton, Mercer Island and Issaquah to greet customers and collect donations. Last year, volunteer bell ringers collected $22,000 in donations, however, Barrett is unsure how this year will pan out considering there aren’t enough groups signed up.

“The need has increased, but our volunteers are decreasing,” she said. “Our resources, especially around the holidays, have decreased. So this is a cry out. We need volunteers to step forward.”

St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank and Emergency Feeding Program are also noticing the trend of increased demand and decreased aid.

Emergency Feeding Program has seen a drastic drop in the number of volunteers this year, according to Glenn Turner, executive director.

“Our volunteer participation is down this year,” he said. “We normally have four or five groups coming in each month, but we only have one group coming in this month. We’re being challenged in a number of different ways, but we’re going to do what we can to feed those who need to be fed.”

Though not a food bank, the organization is seeing an increased demand for food as more people are showing up at the door. Seattle and King County councils have approved an increased budget for program for the next biennium according to Turner, but the current lack of volunteers is worrying.

“This year there’s been so many rent requests,” said Karen Sauve of St. Vincent de Paul. “We don’t pay rent — we don’t have the funds. But we do what we can. It’s getting harder and harder out there. There are jobs but not high-paying jobs by any means. We do what we can.”

St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank, located at St. Anthony Catholic Parish, has started collecting food items for their Christmas Food Baskets.

“We’re doing boxes of dinner and we also give them a Safeway card so they can get a turkey, fresh vegetables and so forth because what we have are non-perishables,” said Sauve.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint why there’s a lack of volunteers this year, Turner suggested that the increased number of homeless persons could be one of the reasons why he’s seeing more demand for food.

This year’s One Night Count revealed twice as many homeless individuals in Renton from 2015, a jump from 79 to 160. About 4,500 individuals were counted in King County.

Barrett said that she’s noticing more families coming to the Salvation Army, while Sauve said she’s seeing more single mothers.

With less than a week until Thanksgiving and not enough resources or aid, Barrett said she still has hope in the Renton community.

“It’s a little stressful I’m confident the community will step up because they always do,” she said. “This is one of the most committed communities I’ve worked with. I’ve worked for salvation army for quite few years in different areas and locations. I have to say that the Renton community… I just put the need out and they respond.”

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