Sustainable Renton sunsets free grocery store

More than 2 million pounds of food were distributed to families and individuals in need.

A program that kept families and individuals fed through the pandemic is coming to an end, as Sustainable Renton’s “free grocery store” nears its final dates.

Hannah Flory, vice president of Sustainable Renton, said the idea and effort to establish the free grocery store food drive “came out of need” at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

Flory said part of Sustainable Renton’s mission is to find ways to reduce food waste, and closures during the pandemic created a mass surplus of food that was at risk of being thrown out among businesses across the region.

Sustainable Renton and their volunteers turned up their efforts to “glean,” a term that describes the process of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need. The onset of the pandemic created conditions in which there was plenty of excess food at risk of being wasted, Flory said.

Flory said Sustainable Renton’s lead gleaner, Scott Kreidermacher, made some calls to local businesses with excess food and was able to acquire “hundreds to thousands of pounds” of food to give to community members in need.

Sustainable Renton initially needed a venue to host their free grocery store, and the folks at Brewmaster’s Taproom initially allowed them to host the food drive there for about six months before they outgrew that space.

“From there, it kept growing and growing,” said Flory.

She said that St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church agreed to host the free grocery store in their parking lot, as they continued to expand their network of businesses that wanted to donate food to supply the free grocery store.

According to Flory, over the three years of hosting the free grocery store, they were able to give away an estimated 2.3 million pounds of food that might have otherwise gone to waste. She also estimated that there were tens of thousands of people who patronized the free grocery store over that same time period.

“We didn’t turn anyone away,” Flory said of all the people Sustainable Renton served.

Now, the organization is planning their final free grocery store day on Dec. 18.

“I don’t think any of us anticipated this to go on for three years,” Flory said of the endeavor.

Flory said certain funding opportunities that were needed to continue the free grocery store did not come through, and they are not able to keep the program going with the resources they have.

“This program is ending, but Sustainable Renton is not,” Flory said.