10 July 2010

volunteer project: food lifeline in seattle, washington

I admit it. Had I known this Saturday afternoon was gonna be so darn summery, I probably would not have signed up to volunteer with BEAN Seattle’s project today working with Food Lifeline. I was okay with missing out on the annual Ballard SeafoodFest, but the first official weekend of summer weather in Seattle? No way - especially when I’m slated to go to Peru next week to volunteer for three weeks in the throes of its coldest winter in history. Right now, this gal needs all the Vitamin D she can get (within reason of malaria meds side effects).

BEAN is a Seattle-based organization that connects young professionals with volunteering, networking and social opportunities around the Puget Sound area. (BEAN also operates in many cities around the globe with over 100,000 members). I’m a few years older than its average member, but that didn’t stop me from fitting in just fine with its volunteer event today at Food Lifeline.

After my recent experience working with food distribution among the needy in Honduras, my inner journo was curious to see how the whole process worked. Sure, I’ve been steering my Seattle altruism efforts in food-centric directions, but this was also a personal R&D mission to gain greater understanding of how food banks work. You can’t blame a gal for wanting to learn.

Twelve volunteers from BEAN Seattle, along with 27 students and parents from The Evergreen School showed up at Food Lifeline in Shoreline today at 1 p.m. to work a three hour shift. After a quick spin through the (ridiculously organized and immaculate) facilities, and learning the rules of the volunteering road, the BEAN group was set loose to sort and repackage food donations from the recent Seattle letter carrier’s Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive.

When it was all said and done, BEAN volunteers boxed more than 5,550 pounds of foodstuffs, which will serve 4,269 people in West Washington meals. The Evergreen School kiddos scooped and bagged 1,488 pounds of Fiber One cereal, which will serve 2,289 breakfasts (I did not spy equal amounts of toilet paper donations). The numbers are impressive, but what is really mind-blowing is that Food Lifeline distributes 25 millions pounds of food to West Washington residents annually. More than 4 million of those pounds are perishable goods, as grocery stores these days steer towards selling scratch and dent canned food to stores like Grocery Outlet. Local markets like Whole Foods, Safeway and Fred Meyer all step up to the charitable plate with huge donations. To give you an idea how much food Food Lifeline serves up to more than 300 organizations around the Western part of our state each year, it’s enough to fill Qwest Field ten times. Now sit down for these stats. Last year, 9,320 Food Lifeline volunteers repacked 3,218,732 pounds of food, which – drum roll, please – served 2,475,948 meals to West Washington residents. Our volunteer coordinator, Ben, assured us that the majority of Food Lifeline’s recipients aren’t homeless or living on their cars, but people like, well…your neighbor. He also emphasized that this constant flow of food is made possible by the 700 to 1200 people who volunteer weekly with Food Lifeline. Wow.
Time flew as we pulled compostable light blue bags filled with donations from oversized cardboard boxes and carefully inspected for bulges, dents, rust and expiration dates. As instructed, we kept an eagle eye on raw, thawed or partially eaten foods (yes, we encountered all of the above), as well as recently recalled peanut butter items and certain Kellogg’s cereals. Time flew by and when we were cut off from sorting and repacking our final cardboard box of food at 3 p.m., my posse of ├╝ber-efficient food packers were sad to stop so short of the finish line. As we exchanged quick goodbyes, I realized that I so enjoyed spending the afternoon with such a great like-minded groups, and if I had to choose between Vitamin D and volunteering with this crew again, the latter would surely win out.

Between now and July 23, 2010 Food Lifeline is hosting an event called Food Frenzy, which aims to end hunger for children in Western Washington. Join over 100 local law firms, accounting firms, design & construction firms, credit unions, and public sector legal organizations in this creative competition to raise funds and food for Food Lifeline. For more information on Food Frenzy or to find out how to volunteer, click here.

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