There are a lot of moving parts to the food bank. In fact, I don’t think there are any parts that don’t move at that place. The food bank is many things-organized chaos, extremely diverse, surprisingly efficient, and most admirably, committed to serving the larger Seattle community justly and equitably. It is a mixture of smells from the fresh produce from the Seattle Community Farm, cakes and croissants from local bakeries, and of course, a hint of compost (Seattle thing). It is a mixture of languages. Located in one of the most diverse zip codes in the country, languages spoken include English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Filipino, Vietnamese and others too. It’s also a mixture of music. There’s a boom box that sits in the garage and plays what can be described as nothing short of jams, including Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”, Hoobastanks “The Reason”, and Chris Brown’s “These Hoes Ain’t loyal.” The end goal is to make the supply of food last and serve as many people as possible.
As one of 27 food banks in the city, between January and May of 2015 the Rainier Valley food bank has received over 10,000 unduplicated visits. In 2014, the food bank provided diapers, baby food, and formula to 25% of the infants receiving assistance from food banks in Seattle. (!!!) Food distribution days are Wednesdays and Saturdays, with Wednesdays being the “slow” day of the two. A slow day means around 400 visitors over the course of around 5 hours. In other words, people are moving through and they are moving through constantly. There are guests shopping for food, volunteers unpacking boxes, staff moving crates of produce, meat and poultry into the fridge, navigating through narrow aisles and spilling out into the driveway and street.
The Key Players: (I’m not going to use names but you can get the general idea).
Supervisors: There are two offices in the back where the main supervisors sit during the mornings and oversee all the operations of the food bank. They definitely have more important titles and responsibilities than I could adequately describe. They resolve any issues with guests and are also just friendly faces, keeping the energy up and talking with members of the community and volunteers.
Numbers Person: A volunteer usually gets this job and is responsible for handing out numbers to all of the guests that day. In order to receive a number, a guest must present a food bank card with their name and identification number, as well as a form of ID. There are two types of numbers given out. The disability numbers are green and generally, this line moves more quickly and therefore, receives more food. A lot of people want these. The other numbers are white. Everyone can receive a white number. Only those with disability verification on their food bank cards can receive a green number.
Food Stocking: These people are the muscles of the food bank. They pick up the food from community gardens and grocery stores, bring in all of the donations from heavily stocked trucks, carry impressive towers of crates, and get the really heavy chicken out of the fridge when other volunteers need help aka me.
Food Distribution volunteers: Before the food banks open, these volunteers are in charge of getting everything set up. That means packaging food, stocking the refrigerator, opening boxes, and quality control. After the food bank is open these volunteers inform guests of how many items they can choose from each category based off of the sticker given to them at check in.
Check In: At the check in desk, guests of the food bank present their ID cards and their food bank cards so that their information and visit can be recorded into the database. Based on the number of people in their family and their zip code, they will receive a sticker with a number, which indicates how much from each section is appropriate for their family, and a color, which corresponds with if they qualify for federal food at this location depending on where they live. There is also a candy drawer and whenever a kid comes in they receive the candy of the day. Yesterday, it was Reese’s Pieces.
*There definitely are more key players but those are the ones that I have identified in my experiences so far.* There are probably around 20-30 volunteers each Wednesday and Saturday.
There are a lot of roles to be filled and a lot of key players who work together to provide access to healthy and nutritious food to a TON of people. It’s crazy in there. It is also an intersection of my Duke Engage experience that brings together much of what I have learned over the past 3.5 weeks. I’m getting a first hand look at how a non-profit functions within a community. I’m recognizing that service is messy and serving justly sometimes means saying no. I’m realizing the role of race and privilege in the uphill battle that is nutrition and the food system of the United States. I’m very grateful for Wednesdays at the food bank and for the next few Wednesdays at around 7:56am, I will be looking out that bus window wondering what kind of craziness I am about to get myself into. Looking forward to more craziness.