Lack of Volunteers Hurts WA Food Banks at Crucial Time

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A shortage of volunteers is taking its toll on food banks in Washington state.

Joe Gruber, executive director of the University District Food Bank in Seattle, said they have about 300 weekly volunteers who make their operations possible. But with COVID-19 worries subsiding this summer, their usual volunteer base has been getting out and traveling more than past years.

Gruber pointed out the shortage comes at an unfortunate time because they are busier than at any point during the pandemic, seeing 50% more people in 2023 than 2022. He acknowledged the increased need stems from a confluence of issues.

“The inflation that folks have experienced over the last few years, and then we’ve also seen an erosion of some of the enhanced benefits like SNAP had received some extra dollars,” Gruber outlined.

An increase in funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program during the pandemic ended in March. A recent study found SNAP recipients experienced a 21% increase in food insufficiency after the increase ended.

Gruber emphasized the lack of volunteers is hurting not just inside the food bank but in other operations, such as their home delivery program. He added they have also seen a 10% to 15% decline in food donations, which means they have to buy more food.

“We’re needing to fundraise more money to make sure that we’ve got those resources available, and that’s another way that volunteers have helped us in the past,” Gruber stressed. “We have an annual fundraising auction where we’ll hope to raise $250,000 or $300,000, and it happens because volunteers commit.”

Gruber noted fortunately for his food bank, students at the nearby University of Washington campus lend their assistance.

“They’ve engaged deeply in our work and supported it,” Gruber observed. “Hopefully for us, we’ll have a resource that not every food bank will have available to them; an abundant pool of interested and engaged students starting back in the fall.”

Featured photo: Washington state food banks are expressing concern about the drop in volunteers since the height of the pandemic. (Halfpoint/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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