NEWS: More people need help getting food in the pandemic


King County Emergency Management News

June 15, 2020

Contact: Joint Information Center, 206-205-1000

More people need help getting food in the pandemic:
King County steps up, can you?

Amidst high unemployment hovering around 15% in King County, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, more people need help getting food. In King County, 10,000 more households received Basic Food assistance in April than in January, a 10.5% increase. Basic Food assistance includes the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as food stamps, and the state Food Assistance Program (FAP).

“The pandemic and the resulting unemployment and economic downturn are having a severe impact on people’s ability to pay for basic necessities, including food,” said Brendan McCluskey, director of King County Emergency Management.

“Couple that with rolling back of Metro lines, public transportation that allows someone to get to a food bank, the need for more food access is growing,” added Jennifer Rosenberger, Senior Manager with King County Emergency Management.

In “normal” times, a coalition of government agencies, food banks and other not-for-profit organizations help people who don’t have enough money to buy food. In April, King County Emergency Management ramped up a “Food Access Branch” at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

“We help with staffing at food banks, from National Guard to volunteers, to transportation,” Rosenberger said.

About 330 National Guard members were deployed to help at food banks in King County. Of those, 116 will be ending their assignments by June 24. That leaves a significant gap, since volunteers have for the most part followed the governor’s stay-home order. Many are older and at-risk in the pandemic and may continue to stay home.

“We’re working with the state to put volunteers into food banks so the Guard can be released,” Rosenberger added. “We really need to try to get help. We’re hoping for high school students who need community service hours, or teachers, or others who aren’t working right now.”

Groups including Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) have been important to this effort. King County Department of Natural Resources also pitched in, providing trucks for a mission to Eastern Washington to bring back potatoes and other produce.

“We’ve helped out with truckloads of food coming from Eastern Washington to Western Washington,” Rosenberger said. “We help make sure food banks they’re getting what they need.”

The EOC has information about how the transportation costs could be reimbursed.

“We do bring to the table our knowledge of the FEMA reimbursement process, so we can find some details about how to make things work and make things reimbursable through the state or the CARES act,” Rosenberger said. “We have access to all the cities, school districts and we can bring in that ability to coordinate, at least in the short term, whether that’s a month or 3 months.”

Coordination is a hallmark of the EOC, and has been especially critical for the food access issue, which not only affects many people but involves countless players.

“Our partnerships with Public Health – Seattle & King County and the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, along with food banks and other organizations, are key to getting the right people to the table to address the problem of food insecurity,” McCluskey said.

Rosenberger added that the EOC is working to increase the number of distribution sources for food as well.

The work of the Food Access Branch is expected to continue under Rosenberger’s lead, even though the “branch” has technically disbanded and been absorbed into the EOC.

How can people help?

Food banks need your help now more than ever.

“Regionally, shelf-stable food has been a difficult thing to get,” Rosenberger said. “Food banks have to process in-kind donations, so money is better.”

Volunteers are also critically needed at food banks.

“Especially with the potential for a second wave (of COVID-19), food bank providers are showing concern,” Rosenberger said.

The King County Donations Connector directs people who want to give money to the Washington Food Fund through Philanthropy Northwest. You can also sponsor a food box. Find opportunities to volunteer at food banks through United Way of King County.