Demand for assistance is rising weekly at the Eatonville Family Agency’s food bank, but staff and volunteers are in short supply.
Workers 60 years and older were quarantined last week by directives issued by Gov. Jay Inslee. His directives came due to recent developments around the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are just in a mad dash to try and predict an unknown future and try to stay as afloat as possible,” Eatonville Family Agency Deputy Director Kylee Hutchings said.
The Eatonville Family Agency has many staff and volunteers who fall into the over-60 category, so few remain after the directives.
“We went from having everybody with their specific job and task and ... all of a sudden, in one day, that was washed away,” Hutchings said. “We were left with myself and two other staff members.”
In addition to the diminishing workforce, Hutchings said they are seeing eight to 10 new faces each day.
With initial weekly unemployment filings up more than 2,300 percent from Feb. 22 to March 21, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department, the local food bank is likely to see even more new faces going forward.
Annually, the food bank sees a sharp decline in donations the few months following the holidays, making now an inopportune moment for for demand to increase.
“This really hit a really hard time for us,” Hutchings said.
Hutchings said the Eatonville Family Agency’s food bank receives a large percentage of its food from the Emergency Food Network. The EFN receives half its food from stores that over-purchase or have excess and half from federal dollars.
Hutchings said the EFN is running into food shortages because of recent events.
“Food is definitely slowing down,” she said.
Additionally, more food than normal is being given out because of families quarantining and their children being home from school. Hutchings said many families can’t and others really shouldn’t go out.
“It’s necessary for us to give them even more than we would normally give them because, if we don't, that leaves them in a position where they're at home with very little food,” Hutchings said.
Eatonville Family Agency regularly delivers food to Ashford for those who cannot travel to the Eatonville Community Center, where the food bank is located. With the decrease in manpower, they have been unable to keep doing so, leaving many without resources.
Since Ashford and Elbe don’t have food banks of their own, Eatonville’s is a primary resource for many families and individuals.
Talks are in the works with Eatonville School District Superintendent Krestin Bahr about how to provide food for Ashby, Elbe and the outskirts of Eatonville.
“Some teachers are willing and would like to know how they can help,” Hutchings said. “We’re looking for people to come in and take a crash course on the proper way of following procedures for checking people in so that later on I have everything I need when I come back, if I get sick.”
It’s imperative that reporting be as precise as possible. Pierce County and other agencies expect accurate reporting for funding purposes.
“We have to be as accurate as possible so we don’t jeopardize future funding,” Hutchings said. “It’s not just a here-and-now problem. It’s what’s going to happen in one month or two months.”
Eatonville Family Agency receives at least 20 percent of its food from private food and monetary donations, Hutchings said. It receives donations from the local Eagles fraternity and also gets some help through grants.
Cruiser’s Café has offered food assistance where it can in the past, and some local church groups are working to provide food and monetary contributions, Hutchings said.
Precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Staff wears gloves when they touch anything. Brand new, untouched bags have been donated for repackaging. As well, the food bank transitioned to drive-thru only March 24 and, beginning this week, is reducing hours to two days per week.
“The plan, I’m hoping with going to two days per week, is that anything that was prepackaged has sat there for several days,” thereby reducing chances people will encounter a live virus, Hutchings said.
Hutchings thanks everyone who has donated money, food and time over the past few weeks. She is also thankful for the Town of Eatonville for allowing the Eatonville Family Agency to operate out of the community center rent free.
“They allow us to use it every single day of the year,” Hutchings said. “They choose to do it for our non-profit so that we can have a food bank in town and do the different things we do for seniors and kids and families.”
Eatonville Family Agency has been serving the public since the 1980s. Since 2015, when Hutchings began her tenure, EFA helped nearly 7,000 clients. In 2019, EFA helped 14,421 people, and Hutchings expects those numbers to grow this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Hutchings said the public's help is needed more than ever. Monetary and food donations can be made in person during current hours or online at www.eatonvillefamilyagency.org.
Hutchings noted that online donations will display as donations to Eatonville Area Council, their legal name for tax purposes.
The food bank is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays at the Eatonville Community Center, 305 West Center St. Except for the food bank, the community center is closed, and all the programs the Eatonville Family Agency offers are currently cancelled.
Catholic Community Services, a partner of Eatonville Family Agency, is still preparing meals for senior citizens Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the community center, but the meals are now delivered curbside.