Emergency Food Donations Down on the KP and Across the County

Local food banks try to accommodate more clients with fewer resources, donations and volunteers while demand continues to grow.


One in 10 residents of Pierce County is food insecure, according to Marion Sharp, director of development for Nourish Pierce County in Tacoma. The Nourish program serves 60% of those one in 10 in need with a 25% increase over the last year. It operates six fixed-location food banks and 15 mobile food bank sites, including on the Key Peninsula. In 2023, it served 59,663 people in Pierce County.

Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain ability to obtain nutrition to adequately meet a person’s needs. Food insecurity can be thought of in ascending stages from completely adequate to stressed, in crisis, acute emergency, or finally, catastrophic.

Sharp said there has been an increase in need over the last year. Food prices are higher across the board, in addition to increases in rents, insurance, and other household items. These increases hit lower-income families hardest.

The Nourish program has documented an increase in the number of children in need, especially 2-year-olds and younger. Thirty percent of those needing food are under 18, and 20% of those using the Nourish sites are older adults.

Sharp said that private donations have dropped and that emergency food sources are not providing as much food compared to a couple of years ago. Some of the food Nourish distributes comes from “grocery rescue” — stores that donate food of all sorts — but that has decreased as stores and farmers are “sharpening their pencils,” reducing what is available for donation.

Financial security may be the most effective way to end hunger, Sharp said. It can take only one unexpected expense to topple the household budget. For example, an emergency car repair or a new pair of glasses for a child can easily drain any reserves a family may have. During the COVID-19 pandemic, families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) saw an increase in the amounts they were allotted. However, that extra amount was discontinued in February 2023.

“It’s so difficult to get all the bills paid,” said Zaida Woodworth, executive director of the KP nonprofit Food Backpacks 4 Kids, which delivers food to students at local schools and runs a food bank in Key Center, among other programs.

“In 2022, we served 6,000 households, and in 2023 that number increased to 10,000 households, for all programs combined. We cover all of the Peninsula School District, and we have people coming from Belfair and Port Orchard at times. Our contract with the USDA Emergency Food Network states that we will serve anyone in Washington State.

“Sometimes we have less food for each person, and it’s a disappointment when we don’t have enough produce,” she said.

Willow Eaton, executive director of Key Peninsula Community Services in Home, said there was a 200% increase in usage at its food bank since the end of Covid funding in February 2023.

“Grant money is drying up, but Emergency Food Network supplies remain steady,” she said. “The food bank obtained $15,000 from the Angel Guild in 2023 for the purchase of proteins and has just received another $5,000 for 2024.”

KPCS also needs volunteers for the high volume of clients at the food bank, she said.

Food bank manager Brett Higgins said, “The challenge is now to keep up with needs.” In July 2018, 209 boxes of food were given to 552 clients while in July 2022, 1,550 boxes were distributed to 3,280 clients. KPCS also delivers 15 to 20 frozen meals each week to KP residents who are housebound.

The Wildwood Hollow Farm and Honeywood Farm deliver fresh local produce to the food bank each Wednesday. They bill the Emergency Food Network fair market value and are paid accordingly.

Waypoint Churches, north and south congregations, provide a weekly Sunday evening meal open to all community members. Pastor Mark Klingler said that they’ve had a 150% increase in attendance over the last year; over 90 people get the free meals each week.

For mobile food bank schedules, go to nourishpc.org.

KP News Reporter Linda O’Brien contributed to this article.