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Hungry for help: With Carnation food bank closing on Christmas eve, patrons weigh other options
Food banks in the Snoqualmie Valley have seen steady increases in community need over the past few years. Carnation’s Hopelink may see another jump soon, when the Snoqualmie Tribe Food Bank, also in Carnation, closes its doors.
The Snoqualmie Tribe in November began the process of withdrawing its support of the Carnation food bank by the end of this year.
Hopelink staff are not concerned about capacity, says Kris Betker of Hopelink media relations.
“We are preparing for a potential increase in clients, but we are not anticipating any problems accommodating additional demand,” Betker wrote in an e-mail to the Record.
“Hopelink’s Sno-Valley Center is not currently at capacity, so we do have some room to fill additional need.”
A bigger concern, shared by many staff and clients of the closing food bank further up Tolt Avenue, is that Hopelink won’t see the expected increase.
“A lot of people can’t go to Hopelink,” says Lois Peterson, one of three staff members to lose her part-time job when the food bank closes Dec. 24.
Some of the roughly 200 families served there each week may not qualify for help, like Misty, a wife, mother of three and part-time house-cleaner, who makes a little too much to meet Hopelink’s income eligibility. “Unfortunately, they have a pay scale, and I’m just at the end of it,” she says.
Others may not want to qualify.
“A lot of the people that we get are kind of under the radar,” explains Fred Vosk, a longtime volunteer at the food bank. “For whatever reason — they might be living illegally in the woods or something — they don’t want to do all that paperwork.”
One of those people is Thomas Lutz, who says he eats once a day, thanks to the Snoqualmie Tribe Food Bank. He doesn’t know what he’ll do if it closes, but he won’t ask for help from Hopelink, on principle.
He’s never gone there, he says, but “I understand they want to know your name, address, Social Security number, what jobs you’ve had in the past, what jobs you’re going to have in the future… I’m just not into it. Just because I’m hungry doesn’t mean I have to turn my life over to a bunch of people I don’t know.”
The truth is that Hopelink recently changed some of its eligibility requirements, Betker said. The organization asks for identification, proof of address and a household headcount, to determine the types and amounts of assistance a client can receive, but it does not require a Social Security number, unless clients choose to use that as ID, and does not require proof of income.
“In terms of income, we have recently changed to self-declaration … as a way of reducing the barriers to clients needing assistance,” Betker wrote. “There also are different income requirements for different services we provide, such as energy assistance, which is funded through programs other than Hopelink (federal and PSE) but available to Hopelink clients. So that information is valuable as well.”
Also, she notes that staff will ask clients for demographic information, such as education and employment, but they can opt not to answer those questions.
Hopelink’s application process didn’t bother Bea Nickels, a disabled senior in Carnation, but she knows that it will be a problem for some of the people who used the Tribe food bank. She actually visits both, at times, but probably relies on the Tribe food bank more — it’s open Monday through Wednesday each week, while Hopelink’s is open one day every other week.
“Sometimes I don’t get a chance to go to the food bank (at Hopelink), because I don’t always have a ride to get there,” Nickels said. “When I get a ride to get my mail, it’s on days that the other food bank is open.”
Better accessibility is important, volunteer Laura Pinter agrees, but she sees another benefit of the Tribe food bank. As a “grocery rescue” volunteer with the food bank for the past 10 years, she keeps a lot of food from going to waste.
“It’s food that’s reached its ‘sell-by’ date, and the stores can’t sell it, but it’s still good, if used or frozen right away,” Pinter said, explaining the rescue operation. She collects past-their-prime groceries from the Carnation Market and the Redmond Ridge QFC and delivers them to the Tribe food bank every weekend year-round, and daily during the holidays, when Hopelink is closed.
“If the Tribe food bank closed, there would be more wasted food,” she said, and she would be looking for another way to serve the community.
Vosk and other volunteers Pinter, Stormy Steinbrueck, Aleta Budden and Dave Pressling and his wife, are talking with the city of Carnation now about how they might keep the food bank going, without the Tribe’s support. It will mean moving to another building, the second move in the food bank’s 38-year history, but Vosk is optimistic that the food bank could continue.
“We are hoping to be able to keep the refrigerators and freezers, (all donated), that pretty much make up the food bank and hopefully move them to the new location,” he wrote. However, he admits, “we don’t have any funds to speak of.”
The Tribe provided the food bank a building and utilities, transportation and three employees, Peterson, Gary Hinzman and Mike Barker. Food was donated from grocery stores and a few local farms — Nickels relied on the food bank for fresh vegetables and other perishables after her food stamps ran out each month — and clients could pick up clothing, eyeglasses, and toys this time of year there.
The Snoqualmie Tribe Food Bank closes Dec. 24. The Tribe has not commented on the closing, despite several requests from the Record.
According to its website, www.snoqualmienation.com, the Tribe has a food assistance program, which Tribe spokeswoman Jaime Martin said had recently expanded, but was not related to the food bank closing.
• Vosk can be contacted at (206) 949-2310 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staffer Lois Peterson sorts through boxes of groceries at the food bank. She will lose her part-time job when the food bank closes next week.
Food bank volunteer Stormy Steinbrueck, left, hands a client a bottle of juice in one of the final weeks of the food bank’s operation. The Snoqualmie Tribe is closing the food bank Dec. 24, although volunteers hope to find another way to continue serving the roughly 200 families who use it each week.
The food bank building in Carnation.