Agnew Little Free Pantry volunteers greet Sarah Irish, a Molina Healthcare community engagement specialist, fifth from left, as she donates $2,000 for food from the agency. Some of the volunteers who work daily to restock the pantry, include, from left, Susan Harris, Dave Large, Florence and Michael Bucierka, Irish, Peggy and John Toppenberg, Dave Iezzi and Ren Garypie. (Matthew Nash /Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Agnew Little Free Pantry volunteers greet Sarah Irish, a Molina Healthcare community engagement specialist, fifth from left, as she donates $2,000 for food from the agency. Some of the volunteers who work daily to restock the pantry, include, from left, Susan Harris, Dave Large, Florence and Michael Bucierka, Irish, Peggy and John Toppenberg, Dave Iezzi and Ren Garypie. (Matthew Nash /Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Little Free Pantries see higher demand, costs

Donations help offset federal programming being reduced

SEQUIM — Little Free Pantries in the Sequim area are seeing an increase in usership and expenses in tandem with the Sequim Food Bank, as general living costs and stress on locals rise.

Volunteers with the Olympic Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s Little Free Pantry, 1033 N. Barr Road, report they’ve spent the same on food through six months in 2022 as all of last year, as federal COVID-19 funding scales back.

Volunteer Florence Bucierka said since the pantry opened in September 2020 it has received ample food donations from Sequim Food Bank, but that it’s unable to provide the same amount as earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic because of the federal reductions.

“They still see us as part of their overall mission but are unable to make the same level of contribution as they had in the past,” Bucierka said.

“Because of the increase in food prices, our cost to provide the same level of food to our Little Free Pantry participants has increased.”

Bucierka said they are fortunate that many fellowship and community members donate food and money, and some congregation members started a garden for the pantry.

On July 21, Molina Healthcare donated $2,000 for food at the pantry. Sarah Irish, a Molina community engagement specialist, said the business has yearly funding to help remove barriers for food, housing and healthcare, and has provided about $50,000 this year across the Olympic Peninsula.

At the Sequim Food Bank, executive director Andra Smith said the organization continues to see more families visiting and new faces that have never used services before. In June, she reported visits went up 30 percent from January to May.

Along with its own programming, the food bank helps about 10 other organizations, meal programs and pantries on an ongoing and as requested basis in the Sequim area too.

“Everyone is welcome to use our services,” Smith said. “There are no restrictions, no qualifications or verification of need.”

The Sequim Food Bank, 144 W. Alder St., is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, and 9 a.m. to noon Fridays and Saturdays with deliveries available by calling 360-683-1205.

Benji Astrachan with the Washington State University Extension Office, which oversees the Little Free Pantry program in Clallam County, said all the pantries have had a hard time keeping up with the need and demand.

“Anecdotally, hosts are struggling to keep them stocked, both because of the heavy traffic they get and because it’s becoming an increasing expense for hosts as grocery costs rise,” Astrachan said.

He said these pantries operate loosely, intended to both be by and for the community and stocked by whomever passes by.

“[The pantries] are generally designed to be located with a host who can help keep them stocked, but the expectation and reality is that random community members also ‘adopt’ pantries to help stock,” Astrachan said.

“There’s almost no way to track who is buying and donating what and how much is being spent.”

However, he said the Agnew pantry’s volunteers keep meticulous records.

Donations, such as canned and bottled foods, can be donated at any Little Free Pantry.

Those interested in hosting or developing a new Little Free Pantry site, can contact Astrachan at [email protected]

The Agnew pantry is open 24/7 with the philosophy, “Take What You Need and Leave What You Can.”

Bucierka reports through May, the pantry provided 94 types of items, fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Her husband Michael said some of the popular items include milk, soy milk, peanut butter, tomato sauce, and toilet paper.

Volunteers restock the pantry everyday, pick up items from the food bank once a week, make a monthly Costco run, and pick up fruits and veggies as needed.

Michael Bucierka said they cycle through most, if not all the varieties of food in the pantry by Barr Road in about two days.

Children and adults use the pantry with an anonymous written survey in March revealing more than half use it more than once a week (55 percent), and got food for their family (54 percent), while 39 percent said they have children and 31 percent pick up for friends/neighbors.

“It’s surprising how much need there is,” Michael Bucierka said.

For more information on the Agnew Free Pantry, visit olympicuuf.com, email to [email protected] or call 360-417-2665. Monetary donations can be mailed to: OUUF, PO Box 576, Carlsborg, WA 98324.

Make monetary donations to the food bank at sequimfoodbank.org.

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