During the pandemic, high demand at grocery stores and a shortage of food bank volunteers have put an enormous strain on organizations that feed the hungry and serve some of the state’s most vulnerable communities. In 2020, there have been at least 1.6 million Washingtonians in need of food assistance, which is double last year’s number, and that could rise exponentially with unemployment still at high levels.
That’s something to keep top of mind over the holidays, typically a time when charitable organizations see an extra boost. Most food banks in the Seattle area are closed for donations on Thanksgiving Day, however many will need donations to keep up capacity. Cash is always a good idea, but for those who have groceries to give, a few places are still accepting them, and have listed some items that are most in need. Be sure to call or check official websites for drop-off hours and COVID protocols.
For a fuller list of local hunger relief organizations, check out Northwest Harvest and consult Eater Seattle’s “How to Help” guide.
Ballard Food Bank
Established in the late ‘70s, this organization has fed area families in need for decades, and has a financial program aimed at preventing evictions. Hours are Monday 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., Tuesday 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Wednesday 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., Thursday 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. (closed on Thanksgiving), and there’s a drive-thru service.
Needed items: Soups and chili, peanut butter, individual cereals and full box cereals, 8 ounces shelf stable juice boxes, shelf stable milk boxes, shelf-stable alternative milks
West Seattle Food Bank
The West Seattle-based group focusing on food insecurity and issues of systemic injustices merged earlier this spring with West Seattle Helpline, which allows it to provide more wraparound services for the neighborhood’s homeless population. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 pm. daily, but closed on Thanksgiving Day. Those donating are advised to show up an hour before opening to make it easier to pull into the garage for low-contact drop-off.
Needed items: Dry goods, oils, vinegars, meats or vegan proteins
This North Seattle-based emergency services and food bank operation serves the Lake City and Bitter Lake neighborhoods. In addition to accepting donations, it’s actively looking for volunteers for picking up groceries, doing deliveries, organizing food drives, and other tasks. Those interested can email email@example.com for inquiries. There’s a 30-minute parking zone outside for drop-offs — those with smaller items can put them on a green rack or flag down a volunteer to help with larger donations.
Needed items: Cans with 10 grams of protein, eggs (the food bank has a large fridge), paper bags
Rainier Valley Food Bank
This South Seattle group has shifted to delivery services to help serve the community during the pandemic, including at-risk students. Food delivery is available to everyone within Seattle city limits, regardless of age, health, and income — and the organization has social workers that can provide assistance with transitional housing and other needs. Drop-offs are from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday with low-contact options.
Needed items: Rice, pasta, cooking oil, fish sauce, diabetic foods, infant formula, injera bread, canned soups and vegetables
U District Food Bank
Over four decades, this U District-based organization has served many Northeast Seattle neighborhoods, and currently has a home delivery program that reaches more than 200 home-bound families every week and a partnership with nearby schools to provide free meals. It also has a job skills training café operated by Street Bean, and a rooftop garden that grows produce for the food bank. Those donating can drive into the garage on Roosevelt next to the office and locate the back door during drop-off hours Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. (closed on Thanksgiving).
Needed items: Canned fruit, canned chicken, tuna, and salmon, soups and stews, peanut or other nut butters (especially crunchy), shelf stable milk and milk alternatives (rice, soy, hemp, etc.)
This South King County resource for those experiencing food insecurity started in a Tukwila church, but has moved outdoors during the pandemic with a new drive-thru service. It has also gone from feeding 50 households a day to more than 500, and could use donations to keep up with demand (open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. except Sunday; closed on Thanksgiving). Needed items: Anything non-perishable as well as toiletries and masks
Renewal Food Bank
Launched in 1998, the Bellevue-based nonprofit is a member of the Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline hunger relief network and currently serves nearly 300 families every week. COVID adjustments include minimizing food handling while allowing indoor shopping, and hours are Mondays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those donating are advised to show up an hour before for drop-offs; perishable items can be left at the door.
Needed items: Baking ingredients (including brownies, muffins, and cake mixes), granola bars, soup
YWCA Central Area Food Bank
Serving the Central District neighborhood, this branch of the YWCA — dedicated to addressing systemic inequalities and racism — distributes free food and grocery boxes weekly to more than 240 low-income families and those experiencing housing insecurity in the community. It’s open for donations Mondays from 9 p.m. to 12 p.m. and Wednesdays from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m. with low-contact drop-off options.
Needed items: Pasta, rice, cereal, cooking spices