There was the woman on furlough who not so long ago had money to donate to the Auburn Food Bank. But one day, to her disbelief, she found herself at the agency, not as a benefactor, but as a client in need.
The man who had been getting his unemployment check — until fraudsters hit the Department of Employment Security six weeks earlier and the checks stopped — was standing in a place that had never entered his mind before, without food for the next day.
Stories like theirs — and they are common these days — break Debbie Christian’s heart.
The hard reality, said the director of the Auburn Food Bank, is that COVID-19 has beat up on everyone — and it has not pulled its punches for food banks.
At a time when the agency has seen the number of its new households increase 20 percent because of pandemic-related job losses, COVID-19 has also forced outside organizations to cancel three critical events that raise money and food: Empty Bowls, which typically raises about $15,000; Scouting for Hunger, which collects about 5,000 pounds of food; and the National Letter Carriers food drive, which typically contributes about 25,000 pounds of food.
There are other shortages, Christian said, traceable to the same people who not only laid bare all those shelves of toilet paper, paper towels, sanitary wipes and gloves when the pandemic hit, but also snatched up the canned and boxed shelf-stable food bank stalwarts like corn and green beans.
“Those are the foods and supplies that carry us through ‘til September,” Christian said. “You can find corn on the Costco website, but it’s the great big Number 10 can for restaurants. You can’t find just the cans of corn you would buy at the grocery store, not even on the Costco website. It all says ‘sold out.’ They don’t sell beets and other things. They really only sell those two items, and every place is low and out of all that.”
But even on dark days, said Christian, there have been some conspicuous lights.
Although the Auburn School District could not hold its annual all-school food drive this year, Christian said, it made personal donations to raise all that was lost via a website page that linked to families and school employees.
Also, said Christian, there are her volunteers, not to mention her army of “wonderful ladies” sewing and making masks and mask extenders by the thousands to fit heads of all sizes.
But again, there’s the everyday stuff that’s not coming in and is hard to find.
“We’ve been getting in fresh produce, and have been able to keep that going out the door to families. We’ve been able to keep dairy coming in. In a lot of ways, families probably walk out thinking they got a lot because of the produce,” Christian said. “But at the same time — and no one has ever said this to me — my worry is how long is that produce lasting? We aren’t getting it fresh from the grower like it would in the grocery store. We get it after the grocery store said it can’t sell it any longer, so it’s probably got a two- or three-day shelf life on it. So if you are looking for the length of time the food is lasting, I don’t think this is it.”
She continued: “Nobody wants to be here … nobody ever wants to think they have to go to ask somebody for their food, yet here they are. Their hope is, they only have to ask once and never come back again, but the reality has been that they are back two and three times in that month having to say one more time, ‘it’s not stretching far enough.’”
It’s hard hard to stay upbeat for clients, Christian said, but it’s what she and her staff have to do.
“We need to stay as positive as we can that we are going to get through this. We don’t know how right now, but that’s what we are all trying to do, to band together and get each other through it. Because it’s not just them facing this. My workers are putting in extra hours to try to stay open long enough to help people for the donor that wants to bring the supply by. And because of that there is extra sorting,” Christian said.
So, what can the people of Auburn do to help?
“I guess for us, some of the biggest help we need right now is the cash because we can buy and fill in the holes we have. Sometimes it’s hard to say from day to day what the hole is because it may not be the same one tomorrow. Cash is king, and typically if you give us a dollar, we can get five times the value out of it. That helps a ton. It also helps for just those families that really like that tangible gift, and they’ve gone to the store and they’ve done their shopping by coupon and found their deals and make that purchase,” Christian said.
HOW TO GIVE
• The food bank, 930 18th Place NE, also needs volunteers between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. Learn more at theauburnfoodbank.org.
• Donations can be sent through Venmo: @Auburn-Foodbank
• Visit smile.amazon.com to choose the Auburn Food Bank as your charity.
• Mail a check to 930 18th Place NE, Auburn, WA 98002. Make checks payable to “The Auburn Food Bank.”
• In person: Come by the office between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
• Food donations: Bring your food donations to Auburn Food Bank at the times and days given above. Weekend donations can be arranged, so call to schedule a donation. Use the drop box. There is also a drop container in the Safeway parking lot at 101 Auburn Way S. Items are picked up daily. Food, hygiene items or pet food only. No cash.