PORT ANGLES — It wasn’t a surprise that the number of households using the Port Angeles Food Bank increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most food banks experienced that.
The surprise was that, after a brief dip as people returned to work, the number rose again.
Emily Dexter, executive director of the food bank, told U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer when he toured the expanded facility on Monday afternoon that an estimated 50 percent of Port Angeles households, and some 20 percent of households countywide, are getting food from the facility.
“Wow!” said Kilmer, representative for the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
Dexter later said by email that the breakdown is 5,155 households coming through the food bank’s drive-thru in the last 12 months.
“There are 9,000 households in PA, so that’s about 57 percent. Then we take out those that aren’t actually from PA, which is about 7 percent. Thankfully we get enough data to be able to break these out.”
Kilmer, a Democrat running against Republican challenger Elizabeth Kreiselmaier in the November general election, asked why the numbers for Port Angeles were so large. Dexter was unsure but postulated that it could be due to population density.
“I could be wrong, but I think part of it is because Clallam is a large county and there are more people here than in other parts of the county,” she said.
“Most of the people who visit the food pantry come here. If they go to New Hope, they also come here. If they go to Forks, they come here,” Dexter said.
The Port Angeles Food Bank is the lead contractor in Clallam County for the state Department of Agriculture Emergency Food Assistance Program, which collects data from households that use the food bank.
“We try to track as best we can the number of households, the number of people in a household, and their ages,” Dexter said.
“These numbers have been wonky since 2020, but we are starting to get a much more accurate look at the different households that are coming each month, which is why we try to get some kind of unique identifier each month so that we can know that this household came one time or 10 times because if we didn’t get any information and didn’t have that unique identifier, we wouldn’t be able to gage how many homes we serve,” Dexter said.
Nevertheless, the numbers are still shocking.
“It is shocking and I double and triple check it and that’s the number that’s showing up,” Dexter said.
Dexter later said that there is no question the pandemic has played a role in the increase and that inflation is the driver of the latest increase.
The food bank also is working to bring in more households that maybe would not otherwise use the service.
“But we are also actively trying to get more households to come to the food bank,” Dexter said.
“For me, it’s important that a family doesn’t choose to not put their kid in a sports camp because they need to eat,” she said.
“There are experiences that children and families and other people need to have outside of just making it through every day, that if we can help them do that by providing a month of free groceries, then that is also on our list of goals.”
The food bank moved from 402 S. Valley St. into a 2,600-square-foot building nearly double the size of it old home at 632 N. Oakridge Drive near the Walmart Superstore in November 2020.
It provided delivery and pick-up services throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.
In January of this year, the food bank kicked off a $5 million Nourish to Flourish funding campaign to remodel and outright purchase the building. It currently pays $7,000 a month to lease it.
Earlier this year, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, $900,000 in federal funding for the Nourish to Flourish expansion project.
The food bank plans to return to a method of distribution that gives users some control over what they get through a return to The Market.
The grocery-store model allows clients to choose their own food. They were assigned points according to household size and shopped for what they needed, using the points like money. Healthier food choices cost fewer points.
Dexter had instituted this way of distributing food in 2019 but it was abandoned in March 2020 when the food bank switched to drive-though distribution to shield clients and staff from the unique coronavirus.
That, however, will change soon.
“Gone are the days of going to the food bank. Now you can just be off to the market,” Dexter said.
However, like many other industries, the food bank is experiencing supply chain issues, which has resulted in a delay in its opening of The Market, originally set for today.
“We have had some issues with the supply chain and all kinds of things are lining up right now so we are just going to wait a week or two, but our goal is to make this a really positive experience for the people who come,” Dexter told Kilmer.
Despite the delay in the opening day of the market, the food bank will continue to distribute food via drive-thru and delivery.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at email@example.com.