Pierce County has officially designated May as its first official Hunger Awareness Month. Sponsored by the Emergency Food Network (EFN), Hunger Awareness Month was designed to get the community involved through a variety of events throughout the month, to fundraise during a particularly busy time for food pantries and meal sites, to help expand their capacity, and to inform the general public about an issue many might otherwise overlook this time of year.
“May is the perfect time to bring attention to hunger as food pantries and meal sites are gearing up for one of the busiest times of the year,” said Emergency Food Network Executive Director Helen McGovern-Pilant.
Throughout the first part of May, EFN hosted several events to do just that, including a tour of their warehouse and ground breaking social for the Capacity Building Campaign on May 5, a Farm Season Kickoff at their eight-acre Mother Earth Farm on May 6, and the GiveBIG day on May 10, their annual one-day giving event for non-profits in the area. EFN has also partnered with the U.S. Post Office for the Letter Carriers’ Food Drive on May 13, when members of the community can leave a bag of food by their mailbox, and the letter carriers will pick it up and distribute it to EFN. Yet the biggest event for Hunger Awareness Month is the Hunger Walk & 5K Run held at Fort Steilacoom Park on May 20. Those interested in showing their support can still sign up for the event at https:/efoodnet. donorpages.com/HungerWalk2017.
While not at first apparent, choosing May as the official Hunger Awareness Month was a decision not taken lightly. EFN estimates that 60,000 children within the Pierce County school system take advantage of the free or reduced cost breakfasts and lunches the districts provide. With summer break just around the corner, these children will no longer have access to these meals. Because of this, families who are food insecure rely on food pantries and meal sites for their nutritional intake. This extra strain on these food pantries and meal sites is where the Emergency Food Network comes in. “EFN distributes over 70 percent of the food given to our neighbors in need,” said McGovern-Pilant. “The majority of the food pantries are volunteer run and have no money to purchase food, not enough contacts to have it all donated and would have to close their doors. Some of the smaller organizations receive as much as 90 percent of what they distribute from EFN. We are able to buy by the semi load and get great pricing. We partner with as many organizations as we can for food purchase, transportation efficiency and large donations. We have the capabilities that the individual programs do not.”
Once May is over, McGovern-Pilant stressed that the work still continues, and that it is never too late to get involved. “It’s easy-peasy to volunteer,” she said, explaining that there is always a need for individuals to donate their time at the warehouse, the individual food banks, or at any EFN events held throughout the year. “You can go on the website and choose from many options in the warehouse, out at the farm or on the mobile we do with Fish Food Bank. You can come alone, join a group, bring a group, adults can come, kids can come. Organizations can go online and sign up to host their own food drive any time of the year they wish.”
While any donation of food is welcomed by EFN, McGovern-Pilant pointed out that some food is needed more than others. Peanut butter, for example, is a hot commodity due to its long shelf life and protein content. They are also always in need of canned meats, such as tuna, chicken and beef stew. Baby needs also make the list of high importance. “We never have enough baby food or formula,” said McGovern-Pilant. “Baby food and formula is the only food that the federal government requires (it is a law) be thrown away on the pull date.” As a side note, EFN also accepts diapers, the only non-food item they take.
EFN published that in 2016, one in seven people struggle with hunger in Washington, and that 54 percent of visits to emergency food programs were done on behalf of children and seniors. To handle that need, EFN distributed 14.8 million pounds of food throughout the 68 food pantries, meal sites, and shelters within Pierce County.
For more information, go to efoodnet.org.