Tim Stevenson arrived at Seattle’s newest food bank more than an hour before it opened, eager to stock up on chicken, broccoli and cauliflower. It’s not often he has options.
Stevenson, 63, retired from his trucking job years ago after he suffered a severe leg injury. Now he tries to survive each month on Social Security checks, so his meals usually consist of pinto beans and rice.
The SODO Community Market is going to change that, he said.
The market opened its doors Monday afternoon in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood, offering fresh produce, soups and grains to those experiencing food insecurity and perpetual hunger. The food pantry is now one of hundreds of Northwest Harvest’s food distribution centers in Washington.
Northwest Harvest is Washington’s only statewide food bank and one of the largest independent food banks in the country, according to CEO Thomas Reynolds. The organization decided to open up the SODO Community Market to replace Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street Food Bank, which recently closed its downtown Seattle location.
But this center was built with a twist, Reynolds said.
“It’s more like a grocery store, less like an institution,” he said during a news conference just before the food bank opened its doors. “A place that really [feels] respectful and dignified, really kind of warm and fun and welcoming.”
Instead of visitors lining up to be handed bagged lunches, they can fill their baskets with food and then “check out” as if they were shopping at a grocery store. Workers will restock the shelves during business hours, increasing their interaction with shoppers and availability to answer questions, Reynolds said.
“We want to blur the line between food pantries and grocery stores,” he said. “We want to merge them into one.”
The new market at 1915 Fourth Ave. S. is modeled after Trader Joe’s, Reynolds said. Its wooden baskets are filled with fresh apples, oranges, watermelons and greens. Its shelves are stocked with peanut butter, dried pasta, canned soup and cake mix. And in the back, volunteers lay out premade turkey and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, right next to the section full of chicken drumsticks, eggs and spinach salads.
The $1.9 million project will be entirely funded by donations, including a $600,000 gift from Amazon, said Laura Hamilton, development director of Northwest Harvest.
“We’re on track to completely reach that [goal] … ensuring we can keep the shelves stocked,” she said.
Reynolds said he hopes the growing number of Northwest Harvest food banks will make a significant difference in the state’s hunger issues. In Washington, one in nine people struggle with food insecurity, and one in six children face difficulties finding their next meal, he said.
Through the organization’s 375 food banks, workers serve almost 2 million meals every month. Reynolds expects the new Sodo market will feed about 20,000 people per month.
“I’m really excited to see what’s going on in there,” Cheryl Hamilton, 53, said before the doors opened Monday. She lives in Martin Court, a transitional housing space for disabled, homeless and low-income individuals.
Hours are 1:30-7:30 p.m. Mondays, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.
Hamilton receives 110 food stamps per month, but also visits a couple different food banks during the week, including St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank in Georgetown, she said.
“It helps supplement with the food we don’t get to buy with our food stamps,” Hamilton said. “I don’t understand why I get so little. I’m paying bills and everything too. It’s just hard.”
Charles Jackson, 49, also arrived more than an hour early to get in line, hoping to bring home fresh Brussels sprouts, cabbage and asparagus. He lives in Martin Court too, and often cooks for Hamilton, who’s one of his neighbors, he said.
Jackson used to go to the Cherry Street Food Bank, but because it was located on a steep hill, it became difficult for him to walk up and down, he said. One of the best parts about the SODO Community Market, he said, is that it’s located in a more accessible area.
“And it’s great because you’ve got this loving community out here,” Jackson said. “If you fall through the cracks, there’s that safety net to bring you back.”