by Elie Nowlis
Grandma’s recipe coconut lemon jalapenos. This may not seem like a typical food you would find at a food bank, but these spicy treats fit right in with the mod podge of produce, desserts, and household staples that fill the back room of the University District Food Bank. The atmosphere is friendly and light. Soothing music plays in the background and the volunteers seem happy, smiling and cracking jokes.
Dave Reuter has been working here since April 2014. He is one of the 6 staff members employed here, along with the 90-100 volunteers they get each week. “I always wanted to work for the food bank,” Reuter says, “It’s an opportunity to work for an organization that does something good.”
For Reuter, the best part of his job is it’s “off-the-wall nature,” as well as getting to “interact with all different sorts of people that come to the Food Bank to shop, to donate foods, or are curious about the response to hunger in our communities.” There were certainly a wide range of shoppers, ranging in age, gender, race, and appearance. Elderly people seemed the most common, as well as those with some type of disability.
The U District food bank is setup very similarly to a grocery store, only without the price tags. There is a produce, dairy, and grain section, and well as snacks and drinks. On each food is a number that informs shoppers of how many they can take.
“It’s one box of grapes today, even if you have 11 people in your household. Otherwise it would be too complicated,” Reuter explains. However, the system is not always followed. If someone takes too much of something, “the only way we can get them back is to ask for them back, and that’s really hard for volunteers to do,” he continues.
Most of the donations they receive come from independent companies. New Roots, a Ballard based company, and Safeway make up a large part of the contributions. Donating to food banks can actually benefit large companies, “taking foods out of the compost pile and making them accessible to people.”
Although he is very proud of his work, Reuter does not believe that food banks are the best response to hunger. Instead, he believes food stamps should be central in combating hunger in our communities. “Food stamps should be strengthened and made simpler and more accessible regardless of your immigration status and eligibility,” he says. “[Food banks] should, in a perfect system, supplement.”
At this time, it is very difficult to get access to food stamps. “You have to fill out an application and then you have to set up an interview,” Reuter explained, “you have to go to their offices on time. It takes hours to get called for an interview with a DSHS worker.”
Unfortunately, he doesn’t believe that this system will change any time soon. “Our county doesn’t have its priorities straight in regards to food,” Reuter says. He is worried that the new president will only make things worse. “I certainty don’t see any leadership on fixing our broken food system on the federal level,” he says. Luckily, each state is in charge of its own food stamps, so we can focus on change at a local level.
About 1 in 5 people suffer from food insecurity in King County alone. This is a problem close to home that our community needs to address. Volunteers are needed at food banks, hot meal programs, and food sorting centers. Another way to help is collecting food through a food drive or planting extra produce in a personal garden. Even the smallest contribution can make a huge difference in someone’s life. As Dave Reuter puts it, “food is so powerful.”