Hungry Pierce County residents – particularly PB&J-loving children – will eat a little bit better this summer thanks to the efforts of local union members.
Pierce County Central Labor Council recently donated nearly two tons of peanut butter to Emergency Food Network, all of it collected by members of unions affiliated with the council.
The peanut butter – 2,031 jars weighing a precisely tabulated 3,904 pounds – will be distributed through the 67 food banks, hot meal sites and shelters that the Emergency Food Network supports countywide.
Machinists Union District Lodge 751 – which represents workers at Boeing and Joint Base Lewis-McChord – was the top donor organization for the peanut butter drive. Its members collected 552 jars, or 27 percent of the total.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an American staple, but peanut butter has been disappearing from food bank shelves this year, according to Patty Rose, who is Pierce County Central Labor Council’s secretary/treasurer.
A drought in the South last year created a shortage that has led to a 40-percent spike in peanut butter prices, she said.
As a result, organizations like Emergency Food Network “do not buy peanut butter, because it is so expensive,” Rose said. “They actually have not had peanut butter in the food banks since the federal government stopped giving it to them.”
But peanut butter is an essential source of protein for many people and children in particular, said David Henry, a Machinists District 751 officer and delegate to the council who spearheaded the union’s effort.
“Peanut butter is something every kid will eat,” he said. “It is a simple way to provide good nutrition, and it is something that food banks really need – especially as we get closer to summer, when the low-income kids who have been getting free lunches at school will not have access to that one good meal each day.”
The need for emergency food assistance has grown, even as the economy has started to recover from the 2008 recession. Emergency Food Network helps more than 110,000 Pierce County residents each month, and the most-recent estimate is that one in six Washington residents regularly goes to bed hungry.
Last year, Pierce County Central Labor Council collected 173 jars of peanut butter for Emergency Food Network, but this year’s drive far surpassed that, despite the jump in prices, Rose said.
“We were amazed that people were willing to give so much more,” she said. “I had peanut butter stacked everywhere in my office, to the point that my furniture was starting to collapse.”
Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 31,500 working men and women at 48 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. In 2011, members of the union’s Machinists Volunteer Program gave more than 10,000 hours of volunteer community service, while other volunteers raised more than $263,000 for Guide Dogs of America, the union’s charity of choice.