MARYSVILLE — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen saw how local volunteers seek to meet the needs of their neighbors during a morning tour of the Marysville Community Food Bank on Friday, Aug. 23.
Marysville Community Food Bank Director Dell Deierling showed off the Food Bank's facility during one of its regular Friday morning food distributions, and was joined by Claire Lane of Within Reach and Christina Wong of Northwest Harvest in answering Larsen's questions.
"Washington is the 14th hungriest and most food-insecure state in the nation," said Lane, the food security manager of Within Reach, a statewide nonprofit organization that helps families in need connect with food providers. "Washington and Oregon were near the top of those lists even when the economy was doing well, but there are a number of factors that can impact that, such as the numbers of single mothers or people without advanced education in the population. If you have a state where people move around a lot, or where a high tax burden is placed on those with low incomes, you're more likely to see food insecurity and hunger."
Lane defined "food insecurity" according to factors such as whether a family has enough money for food in a given month, or whether a family has to skip meals, which are measured by an annual survey taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"Years ago, I worked with a fellow contractor at Microsoft, and while I got hired on, things went a different way for him," Deierling said. "Years later, I see him in line here at the Food Bank and I think, 'Holy mackerel.' Anyone can fall off the cart at any time."
Deierling touted the Food Bank's program to provide weekend meals to selected students in need, which began near the end of the 2011-12 school year with 20 Liberty Elementary students, and has since expanded to 200 students throughout the Marysville School District for this fall.
"The odds of them learning become better when they're not thinking about their stomachs," Deierling said.
The need for meals is not limited to children, and even some of those who volunteer for the Food Bank rely upon its services. Carol Sauers' husband passed away in January, and because she'd already left her job in 2009 to take care of him when his health began to deteriorate, she was left with little more than widow's benefits before the state's Basic Food Employment Training program made it possible for her to attend Edmonds Community College to receive her associate of technical arts degree.
"Starting this fall, I'll be a 61-year-old college student," laughed Sauers, who's aiming to get hired as an event planner or an activities director. "I want to work with the developmentally disabled, since I've had such good experiences with them through volunteering here at the Food Bank."
In the loading dock at the back of the Food Bank building, Deierling explained to Larsen how having a truck-sized bay allows them to employ forklifts, which wasn't possible at their previous location adjacent to the Marysville YMCA facility.
"We do three pickups of food a week from Walmart, which are about 1,200 pounds each," Deierling said. "We pick up food five times a week from Fred Meyer, from Albertsons and from Haggen's. We do about 50-60 pickups a week total, but grocery stores are having a tough time of it just like everyone else, so their managers are looking to reduce waste, which we totally understand, but that hurts us."
Lane noted that the Marysville Community Food Bank is relatively fortunate to have a walk-in freezer, since more and more of the donations that charitable organizations are making to food banks are of fresh produce, which is better for their clients' health, but which requires refrigeration space at least.
Outside the front doors of the Food Bank, other members of Within Reach were helping Food Bank customers sign up for programs ranging from food stamps to Medicaid.
"There's a lot of people here in real need, and they might have a little bit of something, but not enough to get them through the month, because if they earn even $10 more, they no longer qualify for the few benefits that they have," said Lane, who seeks to meet those in need through food bank site signups and online registrations.
One of Larson's last conversations at the Marysville Community Food Bank before he left for his next scheduled destination was with Linda Varon, who lives right next door to the Food Bank.
"I only get $39 a month in food stamps because I get $900 in Social Security disability benefits, so I'm rich," Varon said sarcastically. She nonetheless expressed her appreciation to Larson for his support of the food stamp program, and to the volunteers of the Food Bank for their friendly assistance. "I can't say enough good things about them. By the middle of the month, I've run out of money to eat, but because I'm on blood thinners, I have to maintain a steady, healthy diet."
When Varon asked Larson, "Do the Congressmen who want to cut food stamps think we're abusing them, or that we're eating too much?" Larsen answered, "Yes and yes."
"They're so far removed from what it's like not to have anything to eat," Varon said. "Years ago, I was a single mom, and before I got my first food stamps in the mail, I couldn't afford to give my son real meat. He'd go to my mom's house and say, 'Grandma has salad,' like it was exotic. With food stamps, I was able to tell him, 'Now we'll have salad too.'"
"I can't imagine that my colleagues in Congress who want to cut this program don't have food banks in their own districts," Larsen said.
"If it takes 24 bags of groceries to feed the average family in need, only one of those would be able to be supplied by charity organizations," said Wong, the public policy manager for Northwest Harvest, a statewide food distribution organization which distributes to 19 food banks and other meal programs in Larsen's 2nd Congressional District alone.
"There's not enough from the private sector to make up the difference, because they have to look at their own bottom line," Lane said. "When kids lose these programs, it affects school budgets, because they rely on that reimbursement as well."