by Jadenne Radoc Cabahug
The White Center Food Bank (WCFB) sits tucked away in a corner behind large green trees, mostly hidden from public view despite its significant community impact.
Customers wait outside the building for their turn to pick up food in the grocery store model space. People push their shopping carts through the small space, occasionally bumping into one another to pick up items, like fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, macaroni and cheese boxes, and donated donuts and sushi from Safeway and Costco.
The current WCFB location is set to become affordable housing in early 2023, and Executive Director Carmen Smith says WCFB decided to take this opportunity to find a location with easier access to public transportation to fill in the underserved gaps of the White Center neighborhoods.
The WCFB Capital Campaign has raised $2.2 million, nearly half the $6 million goal needed for renovations and upgrades to the building. The new location was announced in late September and is located in downtown White Center. Smith says this move will allow WCFB to expand its services to the community by having a bigger space and better access to public transportation for its customers.
After conducting an internal customer satisfaction survey, WCFB discovered that a majority of its customers drove or carpooled to the current location.
“If you live within a mile radius, you’d probably have to take two buses to get [to the current WCFB location]. We’re averaging 60 to 70 pounds of food per visit, and so taking that on one bus, let alone two, is just a big hurdle for folks,” Smith said.
The new building is located near Sound Transit, other commuter buses, and the RapidRide H Line, which will expand connections in March 2023 from downtown Seattle to southwest areas like Burien and White Center.
Smith says the search for a new location took years, and WCFB received funding of $1 million in early 2021 through Washington State, with the support of Sen. Joe Nguyen.
This move will also improve the center’s operations by providing more space for its customers, food storage, and employees, as well as expanding beyond the food bank to community events, like a potential night market, Smith says.
“We decided to do things that felt best for us as an organization and launch a capital campaign in September, because we just know that this new food bank, brick by brick, is going to be built by the community,” Smith said.
According to its website, the center was formed as an emergency response in the mid-1970s to support families in the White Center and Highline communities. Rose says the food bank does home deliveries to about 120 families a month. WCFB serves over 82,000 individuals and nearly 26,000 households, distributing over 1.5 million pounds of food.
The center also gleans from other grocery sources in the community to line its shelves. Jefferson Rose, WCFB development and communications director, says around 20% of donated food comes from local grocery rescue, from stores like Whole Foods, PCC, Safeway, and QFC, to curb food waste. In addition to grocery rescue, the center offers a range of services, including daytime seniors-only food distribution, home deliveries, a mobile food bank program for seniors and people with disabilities, a baby pantry, a cultural-foods buying program, and more.
Smith says the community has been supportive and is excited for this location change.
“I’m really excited for their move, because they have grown so much,” said customer Angela Mae Hernandez.
Hernandez and her family have been WCFB customers since November 2006, when they moved from Eastern Washington and were homeless in Auburn before relocating to White Center.
In 2013, Hernandez got a job and was able to provide for her family, but she lost her job in 2020.
Hernandez says the center is considerate of her family’s specific diet needs, since her son, Joshua Huereca, has autism.
“So they ask, what would we like? They give us what they have for an emergency bag, but they ask just for Joshua, because it is hard to sometimes get things, and he’ll put his nose up because that’s not what he wants,” Hernandez said.
She also likes that WCFB operates by appointment to make sure there is enough food for all of its customers.
As a Mexican and American Indian, Hernandez says she appreciates the cultural variety of produce offered. She shares that she’s able to use flour from the center to make fry bread and tortillas.
“They have everything you could want. They have cilantro, onions for your chilis, salsas, guisada meat, and fresh tomatoes, always the best,” Hernandez said. “The food bank, it’s like a gift. It’s like a gift from the community for people who are having a problem finding food. You’re able to get all your food, you can get your pastas, beans, flour, dairy, and meats; they provide it all.”
And with this move, WCFB hopes to bring that gift to even more people. “We’re just really excited for this next chapter for the food bank and to be able to do the work that the community deserves,” Smith said.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 10/12/2022 to correct language about the type of survey used to help WCFB with its decision-making.
Jadenne Radoc Cabahug is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Communications: Journalism and Public Interest and double minoring in international studies and French. She began her journalism career at 15 in Seattle through NPR KUOW 94.9 FM’s RadioActive Youth Media Program producing radio feature stories and podcasts. Since then, she has moved to print and online journalism, writing for local Seattle outlets like Crosscut, the International Examiner, the Daily and breaking international news Factal.
📸 Featured Image: The White Center Food Bank uses a grocery store model and allows customers to pick up food from shelves. (Photo: Jadenne Radoc Cabahug)
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