Covid Hunger Relief Grant Supports Care Team at Puyallup Food Bank
March 10, 2023
At the Puyallup Food Bank, the Care Team is often the first point of contact for its customers. Care Team Member Cameron Miller uses the opportunity while loading groceries for customers to ask how they are doing. He checks in with them to see if they have other needs or if there are additional resources they could use.
“When people are facing challenges in life, the food bank is often the first place they go,” said Josh Shulkind, Navigation and Partnerships Program Director. “We’re really at the top of the funnel. There are a lot of underlying reasons for people needing to access the food bank.”
Once Miller has connected with a customer and assessed their needs, the food bank staff can then assist in referring them to other organizations for resources such as housing, clothing, utilities, rental assistance, and job opportunities.
Miller’s position was made possible through a contract with the Washington State Department of Commerce, which provided WorkForce Central a Community Development Block Grant for Covid Hunger Relief to fund positions at food banks. Through this grant, Workforce Central, in partnership with Valeo Vocation, recruits for these positions directly related to feeding people in Pierce County.
Food insecurity can create significant challenges for people seeking employment. People who are food insecure often have limited financial resources, which can lead to difficulty affording basic necessities. This can make it harder for them to access job opportunities, attend interviews, and perform their job duties, which in turn can affect their job performance and their ability to retain employment. Because of this, addressing food insecurity is an important step in promoting economic stability and improving employment outcomes.
The Care Team understands the impacts of food insecurity and how it can affect all areas of people’s lives. Team members specialize in connecting with those customers that may be new to coming to a food bank. Having 1-on-1 support is helpful in building connections and community with people who may be hitting rock bottom.
Just recently, an older gentleman showed up during food bank hours, unsure how to get help. His wife had recently passed away, and he was left caring for his two grandsons, one of whom was autistic. The Care Team was able to sit down with him, connect him to resources and support, and also provide a car full of food.
As our county continues to rebound from the pandemic, it’s also facing inflation and a recession. Shulkind said the food bank really started seeing an uptick in usage this last fall. As a food bank that serves families once a month, it saw 25-32 customers daily, five days a week. It now has adjusted hours to also serve on Saturdays and offers up to 55 windows of service each day.
The food bank also offers support to customers through a six-week program called Directions. This learning community helps people discover more about themselves and what they want in life and helps them with financial support, food, and skills development to move toward their goals.
Shulkind said the food bank is more than just a food distribution system. They offer wraparound support and services and really try to help their customers find success and self-sufficiency with a holistic approach.