On Nutrition

As we transition into cooler weather, safely meeting up with friends and family in parks and backyards soon won’t be an easy, viable option. If you haven’t already, it’s natural to start wondering what the upcoming holiday season will look like. As we’re rethinking pandemic holiday celebrations, should we also be rethinking pandemic holiday giving?

In the wake of the COVID-related economic downturn, food insecurity in Washington state is way up — with about twice as many people seeking food assistance as last year — and there’s no end currently in sight. While the state has stockpiled nonperishable food staples to try to prevent shortages in the coming months, the reality is that as nearly one in three Washingtonians are food insecure, so that stockpile likely won’t be enough.

When we think of food as an expression of caring, we tend to think of cooking a meal or baking cookies for friends and family. But giving the gift of hunger relief to strangers is a supreme act of caring, given the physical and mental impacts of food insecurity. You could certainly donate still-good, surplus nonperishable foods from your pandemic pantry to a nearby food pantry. You could also give to a Greater Seattle-based hunger-relief organization. Monetary donations help fill gaps in needed services and supplies, and gifts of time can be directed to hands-on volunteering as well as advocacy efforts. Here are three organizations to consider:

Northwest Harvest (northwestharvest.org) partners with 375 food programs across Washington state through their Hunger Response Network — getting nutritious food to those who need it — and run SODO Community Market, a no-cost grocery store. The organization also focuses on social justice, advocating for policies that will help eliminate hunger and poverty. Northwest Harvest accepts food and monetary donations, and has many volunteer opportunities. You can also do a virtual food drive through their GoFundMe page. If advocacy is your thing, their website offers ideas for putting your voice to work.

Food Lifeline (foodlifeline.org) sources nutritious food from food industry partners and distributes it to 300 food banks, shelters and meal programs in Western Washington, while also advocating for policy changes to reduce the root causes of hunger. They have numerous volunteer opportunities, including helping to sort and repack donations, and to provide tips for organizing a live or virtual food drive. One of Food Lifeline’s partners is Feeding Washington (feedingwashington.org), which rescues unsold produce from farmers, packers and shippers that might otherwise go to waste, diverting it to people who need it most. When grocery budgets are tight, fresh produce is often the first thing to get cut.

Harvest Against Hunger (harvestagainsthunger.org) connects farmers, produce packing facilities, transportation providers and food banks through their Farm to Food Pantry program. This has the double benefit of preventing food waste while getting fresh fruits and vegetables to food pantries. They accept monetary donations and have some volunteer opportunities.

If you want to organize a food drive, or simply shop with donation in mind, the Washington State Department of Agriculture says these are the most-needed items:

  • Canned and boxed meals (soup, chili, stew, macaroni and cheese)
  • Ready-to-eat products that do not require refrigeration (like nuts, jerky and other healthy snacks) for bags for the homeless
  • Peanut butter and other nut butters
  • Canned or dried beans and peas (black, pinto, lentils)
  • Pasta, rice, cereal
  • Canned and fresh fruits and vegetables
  • 100% fruit or vegetable juice (canned, plastic or boxed)
  • Cooking oil
  • Canned meat (chicken, beef, fish)
  • Infant formula, baby food and baby cereal
  • Canned holiday food (cranberry sauce, stuffing, etc.)