Nourish Pierce County
Local food bank instills hope
By Rachel Kelly
Photo Courtesy of Nourish Pierce County
It’s easy to look at the ugly side of things. To bypass hope; to descend into the dark winter. It’s obvious to everyone, especially as we approach the end of this year, that this has been a year of unique challenges. One of those challenges being hunger. In response to a greater than average need, local food banks have risen to the challenge. And they have done so with limited staff and fewer resources. Ironically, there has also been a shortage of food. The challenges of this year were no less difficult for Nourish Pierce County, a local food bank. In normal months, Nourish serves 7 percent of the Pierce County population. In May and June, Nourish provided enough meals for over 1 million meals—a 50 percent increase from the same time last year, making it the highest number of families and individuals to show up at their food banks in the history of their nonprofit. This is especially impressive, since they were founded in 1982. It would be easy to let the story end there, but there’s more to tell.
This year has marked an increase in need, but it has also been characterized by the quality of our community. At Nourish Pierce County, one of their volunteers commented, “We’re not just giving out food, we’re giving out hope and kindness.” That, in a nutshell, summarizes the intentionality and flexibility of Nourish Pierce County to respond to this season. Regardless of this year's circumstances, Nourish has held fast to their mission. That mission being all the more important under pressure: to provide nutritious food to those in need with compassion, dignity and respect.
Compassion is seen in their volunteers, many of whom are or were recipients of food from Nourish. The nonprofit has 25 locations across Pierce County, with only a paid staff of 19. Nourish heavily relies on its 1,000 dedicated volunteers to help out with the day-to-day operations. This dedicated response from community volunteers shows just how vital Nourish is in the community. A lot of these volunteers reside in the high-risk category, so they have been sheltering in place. Thankfully, the National Guard has stepped in to fill the shoes of the absent volunteers. Nourish looks forward to the return of their volunteers soon. And if that is not possible, they hope that healthier community members will be able to fill in the gap come January. It takes a community to serve a community.
Nourish Pierce County also strives to restore dignity to a process usually enshrined with shame. Because food is a basic need that we partake in several times a day, the lack of it makes us feel incapable. Devoid of comfort. Worthless. These feelings often follow those who walk into food pantries, and it increases as they are asked to divulge their ID or proof of income at the door. Do they really need help? Are they truly destitute? At Nourish, the process of receiving food is different. It’s one of dignity. At Nourish Pierce County, everyone is given a shopping cart, just like in the grocery store. Clients are allowed to choose the food that fits within their cultural, dietary or religious needs. Such a simple thing: choice. Often taken for granted, it is a luxury that has the power to restore confidence. And, as Nourish intimately understands, is deeply tied to dignity.
Nourish Pierce County shows respect by their personal approach to every client. A personal attendant guides each shopper through the “grocery store-style food bank,” highlighting the ins and outs of what and how much. Put simply, Nourish gives everyone around them the time of day, instilling in every member a sense of worth; a sense of worth that is so often stripped away by life’s burdens. From one person to another, we pass on feelings of worth, strength, grace, joy and care. Nourish Pierce County is remarkable in that they recognize that exchange and are intentional to see it through, tying together compassion, dignity and respect is this idea of accessibility.
Nourish Pierce County powers seven brick-and-mortar locations throughout the community, with two mobile food banks that travel to areas where food is difficult to access. Places where grocery stores are few and junk food is aplenty. Having heard that college students are at a high risk for malnutrition due to low income and busy schedules, they also serve on college campuses. They serve at Mary Bridge Children’s Center, taking some of the pressure off of families with health complications. Nourish Pierce County breaks down barriers that keep families from accessing nutritious food by going where they’re asked and by giving where they’re needed.
And there has certainly been need this year. The pandemic has made a lot of their programs look different. Thankfully, their long presence in the community puts them in a prime position to help and adjust. Now, instead of shopping, clients drive up with their vehicles to receive a box of food from National Guard volunteers. They also have fewer volunteers, so their capacity for connection is minimal. Time with each family and individual is short, which makes giving all the more intentional. Every box is a lifeline and a show of hope; everyone will eat. With every box, Nourish Pierce County reinstalls the hope that we are capable, that we will move through this, and that we may even flourish!
Just like other nonprofits, Nourish Pierce County has also had to be flexible in this year's fundraisers. Luckily, the community has once again come through. Last month, Frugal’s sold a Gouda burger in their honor, with proceeds donated to the pantry. Community members have donated their stimulus check. Donations have been coming in from Amazon Smile. And more. There are lots of easy ways to give to Nourish Pierce County, especially through volunteering. From small businesses to large businesses alike, money for Nourish Pierce County has come in when our community need is at its highest. This month, Nourish Pierce County is promoting a “Tis the Season, Hunger’s the Reason” food drive. And they are in need of hosts! The need may be great, but our community has and will show itself to be greater.
Just like the rest of us, Nourish Pierce County isn’t sure what the future holds, so they are keeping themselves open and flexible. Whatever comes they will rise to meet it. Serving community with community. Giving out hope with every box of food, and every full belly. Ensuring compassion, dignity and respect to all who come to them in need. No matter the background. No matter the circumstance. Nourish Pierce County welcomes you.
If you would like to find out more or make a monetary donation to Nourish Pierce County, please visit NourishPC.org.