Food Banks Help Local Communities

You can help food banks thrive!


John Shepard

3/6/20234 min read

In October 2021, Trudy and I began looking for ways to serve our local community and realized many in our area faced food insecurity. We discovered there are a great many who have either limited or uncertain access to nutritional food. So we began to volunteer at the local food bank by operating a satellite location. Ours is located in a small unincorporated village of Coyle. It's where people come from a distance to pick up food for themselves, their families, or people they know who cannot drive or get out due to health reasons. It is a lifeline for many. It's a remote community that is a 45-minute drive from our little town of Quilcene, WA. There are no services whatsoever in this area. So on Wednesdays, Trudy and I stop by the local regional food bank, pick up the food and load it into a refrigerated panel truck, and make our weekly trek to this beautiful area located on the Hood Canal.

Food Deserts

What we discovered for many in our rural area was the inability for access to healthy and affordable food within a reasonable distance. These are commonly called food deserts and here is how the CDC and USDA describe a food desert:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), food deserts are “areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.” The key word in that definition is access, which can be impaired or limited by several factors, such as income, location, time, and the ability to travel to a store. The specific guidelines for what determines a food desert can vary.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes that measurements and definitions of food deserts often take into account common factors:

● Accessibility: How many healthy food sources there are in one area, or how far away the closest healthy food source may be.
● Individual barriers: A person’s own unique restrictions that may prevent them from accessing healthy food, such as not enough time in their schedule or lack of necessary funds to purchase food.
● Neighborhood indicators: Determining factors such as reliable and abundant public transportation, or if average neighborhood incomes are near or below the poverty line.

(compliments of: What Is a Food Desert? Causes, Statistics, & Resources | Ohio University)

According to the 2020 USDA report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2020 (downloadable link),10.5% of U.S. households were food insecure at some time while the rate of food insecurity in rural areas declined from 12.1% in 2019 to 11.6% in 2020.

Clearly Still A Need

It's hard to imagine living in one of the wealthiest countries in the world where between 10-12 % of individuals and families face food insecurity. It could be said that in regions, like ours, some people moved there because it's remote and don't want a grocery store nearby. Some who frequent the food bank may be able to make the long drive and have enough funds to buy groceries. Yet, there are those who, through a change in their circumstances or a lack of resources in one way or another, need a food bank. Often they face the difficult decision of whether to pay a bill or purchase food for themselves or their family. More often than not, Trudy and I have discovered how many can be pushed to the brink of their resources and how a food bank keeps them from falling deeper in debt.

Five Ways You Can Help Your Local Food Bank

Here are my top five (alternatively, go to your favorite search engine and type in "How to help your food bank"):

1) Go and ask what they need. This may seem a no-brainer but several times, I kept supporting the food bank through donations without ever going to them personally and asking how I could help. Do it and you will meet some great people who care about their community and will offer you ways to help. We did and are glad we are able to help.

2) Donate money. If you are like me, my giving gets my attention. When you give to a food bank it has a better chance of staying on your radar for an interest that needs help. Ask how funds are allocated. Most food banks have a good financial accountability system so you can know where each dollar you give goes toward what need.

3) Donate the right food. Call the food bank or go to their website and find out what needs they have now. Seasonally, what's needed can change so be sure to check in regularly with them. If you are a gardener, grow and donate a portion of your produce. But again, with either perishable or items with a long shelf life, check with your local food bank and ask about their immediate needs. Generally, keep in mind the quality of what you are giving (i.e., check expiration dates, no homemade goods, and make sure the packaging is sealed, etc.)

4) Get the word out. For starters, share this article or find out what these places are doing to help with food insecurity:

- your place of worship
- your bank
- your financial institution
- your grocery store
- your extended family
- your neighbors.

5) Last but not least, VOLUNTEER. Put some skin in the game by offering one of the most precious resources you have: TIME. Food banks and pantries rely heavily on volunteers for their day-to-day operations. Plus, there are lots of different ways you can help depending on your skill set, physical abilities and schedule availability. Although the pandemic has impacted many food banks, most have found ways to allow volunteers to work safely, with proper health and social distancing precautions.

For us, volunteering at the food bank has become one of the highlights of our week. The people we work with and help have become like family to us. We feel there is no better way to be the hands and feet of the Creator who gives us so much that it's a joy to give in return.

Our drive from Quilcene to Coyle