Emergency Food Network (EFN) is in on pace to set another record it would rather not reach. But it needs help because the non-profit food bank supplier knows more people will need holiday supplies this year than ever before. EFN has already reached more than 1.1 million clients this year, making it well on track to break last year’s record of 1.2 million since the holiday giving during December represents about 15 percent of its year-round effort. “The need is certainly growing,” EFN Executive Director Helen McGovern said, noting that the seasonal spike is coming at a time when personal and corporate donations are down by about $200,000 for the $2.1 million nonprofit because of the lagging economy and money is tight for everyone. “I think this time of year, people think about it more,” she said, so donations naturally spike as well, but not high enough to cover demand. “But the reality is, it is hard all year round.”
With responsibility for distributing nearly 14 million pounds of food annually, which represents about 80 percent of all emergency food donated in Pierce County, EFN funnels donations to 67 food banks, meal sites and shelters in Pierce County, as well as stocks up on holiday-themed items when the price is right. “Though hunger is a problem all year, we depend on the generosity that we see in November and December to help us through the year,” said McGovern. “There are many people with kind hearts in our community who recognize that the need is greater now than it’s ever been.” Food bank visits jump anytime children are out of school since low-income people often qualify for free and reduced school lunches that aren’t available during summer and holiday breaks. That lack of a school lunch cuts into family budgets that lead to jumps in food bank visits. Holiday-related jumps also come with rising costs of heat during the winter as well as the added expense of holiday spending for gifts and childcare while school is out. Food bank need has increased by 53 percent since 2008 to nearly 1.3 million visits to food programs annually. Generous giving meant a record amount of money raised at EFN’s annual Abundance Auction, bringing in $250,000 for the organization. The Puyallup Tribe of Indians recently donated $30,000 and the Johnson & Haefling Family Foundation also gave $10,000 to help EFN purchase food. The Ben B. Cheney Foundation contributed $7,500 toward holiday-themed food purchases. Family and fellow officers of the four slain Lakewood police officers hosted the third annual Fallen Officers Food Drive, which collected more than 50,000 pounds of food and roughly $25,000 in donations. Those donations have helped fill the gap between funding and need, but donations are still down. EFN is able to leverage each dollar donated to distribute $12 worth of food. The effort does this through bulk purchasing and a strong food donation network since as produce from Eastern Washington being donated as long as EFN covers the freight costs. That means 5,500 pounds of food for just $750 in fuel costs for a truck to shuttle the food from the fields to the distribution center. Another effort started this year has brought in some 150,000 pounds of food. The Extra Row campaign encourages residential gardeners with pea patches in their backyards to tend just one more row of vegetables to donate to the cause.