Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank emphasizes fresh fare

September 6, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

The emphasis at the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank is on fresh fare, as clients call for more healthy options on pantry shelves and administrators add more space for nutritious foods.

The nascent effort to offer more fresh fare to clients comes as Cori Kauk settles in as executive director and pantry staffers put information from a client survey into use.

The municipal Resource Conservation Office and AmeriCorps members conducted a survey in July to gather input from food bank clients. The respondents asked for more fresh and healthy foods, plus more fruits and vegetables, at the downtown pantry. The survey also indicated clients’ interest in gluten-free and reduced-sodium foods.

Throughout the summer, produce from community gardens in the Issaquah area is donated to the food bank. The survey determined many clients did not realize the connection existed.

How to help

Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank

Consider donating food, clothing, toiletries or money to the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank. Find a complete list of needed items, or donate money, at the food bank’s website, http://issaquahfoodbank.org.

The food bank is seeking surplus from local gardens, including apples, carrots, corn, lettuce, onions, plums, tomatoes, zucchini and other edible delights for the pantry, 179 First Ave. S.E. Call 392-4123.

The food bank is always in need of the following items: cereal, cooking oil, evaporated milk, flour, fresh produce, pasta, snacks for children’s lunches, sugar, diapers and baby formula.

“I know my personal mission is to definitely have more healthy foods in our facility,” Kauk said. “Are we hearing that from clients? I think the survey was pretty clear that they would love to have more healthy food options.”

Since starting in January, Kauk has reduced shelf space for pastries and other frosted items, and increased space for breads. The pantry still offers sweet snacks, such as granola bars.

“We really, really love our grocery stores, and they give us lots of food to give to clients, but we are making a conscious effort to make sure that what we do have in our food bank — with the limited space that we have — is much more nutritious,” she said.

Focus on healthy choices

Kauk is cautious about creating a perception of the food bank as the food police.

“I would prefer for people to go to the grocery store and make a conscious decision to buy that type of food versus us giving it away for free,” she said. “Usually, those types of foods aren’t very expensive, and so it’s silly to me to have shelves and shelves and shelves of inexpensive, not-healthy food when we could have those shelves being utilized for more produce or something that will make a meal, versus a snack.”

The shift did not generate any pushback from clients, she said, although some volunteers questioned the decision.

“A lot of people who question that feel like it’s not our responsibility to dictate what people eat,” she added.

Kauk, a former Bellingham recreation coordinator, emphasized the importance of physical activity and healthy eating. Concerns about childhood obesity, diabetes and other maladies also influenced the decision.

“I don’t want our food bank to perpetuate that problem,” she said.

Garden provides organic fare

The problem is compounded because fewer options for healthy fare exist for lower-income people. Often, processed food is cheaper than fresh food.

City staffers and AmeriCorps members spearheaded the client survey because the city and Seattle Tilth, a nonprofit organization, oversee a garden at Pickering Barn to provide organic produce to the food bank.

“We were also able to ask questions like, ‘What kind of foods would you like to see?’” said Mary Joe de Beck, a senior program manager in the Resource Conservation Office. “That way we could turn around and then grow that type of food, which is really cool.”

Canvassers conducted the surveys in multiple languages and received 18 completed surveys. Kauk and de Beck said the information should help officials determine whether the food pantry is meeting clients’ needs.

The city also learned to include tips alongside some donations from the garden to the food bank, such as fava beans.

“If we’re growing things at the garden that people aren’t used to cooking, then it makes sense for us to do things like provide recipes and provide really easy ways for people to prepare the produce,” de Beck said.

In addition to the garden at Pickering Barn, gardeners at local pea patches donate fresh — and often organic — produce to the food bank.

“I think people are realizing that they don’t have to let any of their harvest go to waste, that there are people who need food and, hopefully, they’re bringing it here or giving it somewhere where there are people who could use more produce,” Kauk said.

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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