Grocery stores region-wide are trimming costs by reducing the amount of perishable food kept on hand, and that means local food banks, including the Sky Valley Food Bank, are getting less fresh food this year than they have in the past.
The Sky Valley Food Bank, like many food banks, gets most of its fresh food from grocery stores pulling goods from shelves as they approach their sell-by date.
“We have two trucks out, seven days a week,” said Neil Watkins, Director of the Sky Valley Food Bank. “We go to Albertson’s, Fred Meyer, Grocery Outlet, Safeway, all over.”
Grocery stores are glad to give meats, dairy and vegetables to the food bank once it’s not fresh enough to sell, and Albertson’s manager Dave Hays even sits on the Sky Valley Food Bank’s Board of Directors.
But there is a recent trend to cut back on fresh food inventory at grocery stores, said Watkins.
The food bank just completed an accounting of the first six months of 2014, and found that donated food collected by this point last year had totaled 380,000 pounds. This year, that number has fallen to 330,000 pounds.
“Grocery stores are our biggest source,” Watkins said.
The stores are still giving the food bank lots of breads and sweet baked goods, but produce and meat are down.
This trend has been noticed by other food banks in the region, as well.
Northwest Harvest, a region-wide food rescue organization, reports food donations from groceries have fallen off.
“It’s an efficiency thing on the part of the grocery stores,” said Debbie Squires of Northwest Harvest. “It’s not just in Snohomish County. We are hearing it from larger grocery stores everywhere.”
Locally, Willie Green’s Organic Farm has stepped up to fill some of the gap, which is greatly appreciated, said Watkins. And the Julia V. Morris Memorial Garden, created to support the food bank, is likely to produce about 4,000 pounds of fresh vegetables this year.
But Watkins said that this year’s Letter Carrier’s Food Drive yielded somewhat less than it has in the past, and that sources of protein are becoming scarce.
“We need to turn to the community, in hope there can be more food drives, more dollar donations,” said Watkins.
With monetary donations, the food bank can purchase protein foods in bulk at reduced costs.
Watkins hopes that the situation might improve with the arrival of Walmart.
Controversial as the store is, Walmart has a track record of being generous with food banks, he said.
For now, the food bank is hanging on, said Watkins.
“In the short term we’re okay, but long term we are beginning to see that things are a bit concerning,” he said.
To find out how to host a food drive, or how to help or volunteer at the food bank, visit http://www.svfoodbank.org/ or call (360) 794-7959.