Puyallup Food Bank Provides Resources

On a busy Saturday morning, volunteers, clients and vehicles travelled into, around and through the warehouse on Stewart Avenue in Puyallup.

Trucks stopped by an opening garage door on the left side of the building. Boxes were unloaded and wheeled in. Voices called through the large space, carts of sorted food were pushed around, packages were opened, pallets were thrown into neat stacks, people hurried around; a usual day for the people who work there.

In the back area earlier that morning, the activity was quieter but still present; volunteer Gail Martin finished sorting through snacks, then moved to a table on the other side to sort more with two others. Another volunteer opened the back door by the fridge, tossing pallets outside.

That Saturday was Nov. 5 at the Puyallup Food Bank. It was pick-up time, which is when client after client pulled their cars through the driveway to receive large shopping carts full of food and speak with volunteers, in a drive-thru fashion.

“It’s an incredible, positive, friendly environment and it’s an empowering feeling to give to people in need,” volunteer Marty Johnson said. It was Johnson’s fourth day there.

The Puyallup Food Bank is a nonprofit organization founded 50 years ago by a Christian couple, Evelyn and Bob Powers. It provides food, resources and strives to create sense of community to people in need in local regions. Businesses like Costco, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Safeway donate nearly all of the food the Food Bank gives to clients and partners.

CEO Shawn Manley weighed in with what he’s seen since the start of the pandemic. With the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, many people lost their jobs and businesses, putting strain on families, he said the number of people asking for help increased, but supply was inconsistent, and is still unpredictable.

“While I was consulting with the Puyallup Food Bank, they were in the COVID crisis. And they asked me to step in, in a moment where there was a lot of uncertainty and chaos,” Manley said.

Though the lockdown and mask mandates are essentially over, that doesn’t mean that supply and demand have leveled out. Manley says that more people are in need today.

To meet demand, the Food Bank is doing more food drives; there are 19 happening right now. The largest is at Harnish Auto Family, which will donate thousands of pounds of food.

“We received 38,000 pounds worth of food from the Fair Food Drive. And we’ve used more than half of that over the last month, month and a half,” Manley said.

The Food Bank provides families enough food to last over a week and serves around 640 families a month, 40 families a day.

Joe Harrison volunteers as a pickup person Mondays and Fridays. He began outreach and volunteer work in high school. In the holidays, his dad gave turkeys, hams and Christmas trees to less fortunate people.

“Traditions like that, through the years, have stuck with me; [volunteering] becomes a part of who you are,” Harrison said.

Harrison began regularly volunteering at the Food Bank since 2021, and his wife Marjorie volunteers there as well.

“My wife and I both really look forward to Mondays; it’s just a really positive group of people we work with,” Harrison said. “It’s just a real uplifting and meaningful thing for us to do every week.”

Gurpreet Kaur has volunteered for four years and is among one of the families working there. That Saturday, she was checking clients in and giving them extra resources, like non-food items and toys for birthdays from upstairs.

Simar Kaur has volunteered for about a year, doing miscellaneous tasks like organizing and packaging food for clients. The environment of the Food Bank is very busy, and volunteers learn to work quickly.

“You learn to work at a fast pace. You can get five to six cars waiting for food,” Simar Kaur said.

With parent or guardian permission, you can also volunteer there (you must be 15 to 17 years old). If you have siblings (10 to 14 years old), they can join with parent or guardian supervision.

There is already a group of high schoolers, about seven or eight, who volunteer regularly, mostly Saturday mornings and sometimes school-day afternoons, says Manley.

“I think it’d be great to have more high schoolers on campus,” Manley said. “The volunteers that come in, usually stick around because they have so much fun.”

Emerald Ridge seniors Jamari and Jermaine Martin are two of the high school volunteers. That Saturday morning was their first official day, with orientation earlier that week. Jamari shared that there are certain values that are efficient to have when working at the food bank.

“Teamwork is a really important thing; it keeps everything moving,” Jamari Martin said. “Be flexible, be open to do other stations if others are unable to.”

Manley said that a volunteer got the chance to share her story.

“We really focus on not just giving resources, but actually helping to build the relational fabric of our community and giving people hope that they can have a place to belong and have a sense of purpose,” Manley said.

The Puyallup Food Bank remains a center of community, not just for its workers and volunteers, but for people who encounter it and those it serves. See the establishment’s website for contact information and more details (pfb.org).