The Emergency Food Network is an organization that everyone should know of. EFN is a Pierce County-based network that provides food for families and individuals that are in need of food for no cost at all. What makes this organization unique is the fact that the food they donate is healthy and nourishing, not junk food; many food banks can often provide innutritious food.
EFN provides over 13.9 million pounds of food to over 70 food pantries with 1.3 million visits each year for Pierce County residents, and most food pantries are still open during the coronavirus outbreak (check this map for availability and hours). A majority of the food donated comes from their farm, Mother Earth Farm, which is located in Lakewood. One event they sponsor is a soup event, Empty Bowls, and they also sponsored a Repack Project back in December.
Empty Bowls was an event where local artists donated their unique bowls they made for guests of this event to buy. Guests got to enjoy a bowl of soup from local restaurants along with other refreshments free with the bowl they purchased. My experience volunteering at Empty Bowls was absolutely wonderful. Not only was their soup delicious with a wide variety of vendors to choose from, but the organizers working for EFN were beyond polite, and welcoming, checking up on me throughout the event.
The event was an absolute success, with over 500 attendees who raised more than $30,000 to distribute over 150,000 meals! I’m so glad I got to be part of this event, and I hope it encourages other people to volunteer for future events of Emergency Food Network.
What follows is a transcript of an interview Madison Smith, who works for EFN in community engagement.
What is your goal for this organization?
Madison: “Our mission statement is ‘So that no person goes hungry,’ which I think sums it up pretty well. With 1 in 7 people in Pierce County currently experiencing food insecurity, that is no small task! We also talk about how the food that people are receiving should be consistent and diverse. Consistency is important because a lot of the problem of food insecurity is the mental strain of table from day to day. And in terms of diverse food, we include vegetables from our organic farm, commodities like dried rice and beans, and lots of food drive items. We try to make sure there are plenty of kid-friendly foods, and we’re increasingly working on providing culturally important staples too different ethnic populations as well.”
How does the food get to those in need?
Madison: “The first step is getting the food to our warehouse in Lakewood. This comes from a variety of sources. Some large corporations such as Fred Meyer and Whole Foods donate their excess inventory to us. The same goes for some larger farms in the Yakima area. A lot of food also comes through food drives, government programs, and some staple items that we purchase at a wholesale discount. We have an awesome warehouse staff that goes out to these locations with a semi and then spend countless hours loading, unloading and inventorying!
“The next step is getting this food out to the 82 food pantries that we serve. We operate much like a distribution center for a grocery chain; because we have lots of space, we are able to take large donations (we’re talking in tens of thousands of pounds) that these pantries could otherwise not accept. Our team is in constant communication with the pantry directors, who place “orders” based on their needs. Our drivers then deliver these custom-built orders to the food pantries, anywhere from once a week to once a month. It is then up to the pantries, who have a better feel for their respective communities, to distribute the food to their guests. All told, we distribute about 14 million pounds a year!”
How much has EFN evolved since it first started and where do you see its future?
Madison: “The word ‘Emergency’ reflects the original intention of the organization when it started in the 1980s, which was to be a short-term lifeline during economic crises. But the organization quickly realized that the need wasn’t going anywhere, and it would be useful to establish something permanent. One thing that has definitely changed is the number of partner programs that we serve! I have been at EFN about 4 months myself, and even in that short time the number of programs has increased from 76 to 82! Another sort of more intentional evolution is trying to provide increasingly sensitive service to guests. An example of this is the switch from pre-bagged food to guided ‘shopping.’ We are encouraging food pantries to make this change because we really believe in food autonomy– the right of individuals be able to make their own dietary choices regardless of income.”
I also got to learn about another volunteer experience, Beckie Takashima, with EFN. Here are some questions I asked her.
How many times have you volunteered for EFN?
Beckie: “I have volunteered for EFN two times.”
What was your experience like?
Beckie: “Both experiences were so enjoyable because they were so well organized. They knew exactly what their needs were and conveyed them in a very clear manner so that all volunteers were able to confidently help out where there were needs.”
Why do you think others should volunteer at EFN?
Beckie: “I think others should volunteer with EFN because they are so well organized, and their cause is so worthy. They stretch every dollar they raise in order to assist the most people possible. They take very good care of their volunteers ensuring they take breaks and have great snacks too which is so kind of them and is such a nice gesture for donating your time.”
What are your favorite events of Emergency Food Network that you have attended?
Beckie: “My favorite event was the dinner auction. It was so high energy and so awesome to see such kind and generous hearts helping a good cause.”
There are not that many events coming up for the Emergency Food Network due to the state shutdown. If you are wanting to donate to the Emergency Food Network, you can drop off food at their distribution center in Lakewood. As expected, try to donate as much healthy, nutritious food you can. EFN in most need of peanut butter, infant food and diapers, canned fruits, vegetables, and meats.