The Hunger Coalition in Bellevue started a $6 million renovation and expansion of its facilities earlier this month in the midst of a tripling of demand for emergency food services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The development project, which began May 5, includes the rebuilding of a 13,000-square-foot structure and construction of a new greenhouse on four acres across the street from the food bank’s current 5,000-square-foot location, as well as expansion of a vegetable farm in Quigley Canyon.
Included at the new facility, to be called the Bloom Community Food Center, will be additional warehouse space and cold storage, a community kitchen and a meeting area for clients and partnering nonprofits.
Since March 16, the nonprofit has fed 48 percent more people than it did in all of 2019 through its food pantry, Hunger Coalition Communications and Development Supervisor Kristin McMahon said.
“We’re continuing to feed three times as many people weekly and distributing three times as much food,” McMahon said. “Donations have kept pace with the demand, and we are extremely grateful for this comparable amount of generosity from the community.”
McMahon said that since the pandemic struck, she has seen “no notable drop” in the number of clients driving by for boxes of food prepared by a team of staff members and hired contractors. She said the pool of volunteers has been dramatically reduced and administrative staff have been working from home.
“The pandemic has reinforced the incredible value in our partnerships,” she said. “We would not have been able to accommodate the need without additional storage space provided by Mountain Rides or the Higher Ground team, which managed home deliveries for vulnerable populations.”
McMahon said the organization expects food insecurity issues to continue even after unemployment numbers drop.
“Three days of unpaid work can affect a family’s ability to buy food for a month,” she said.
When The Hunger Coalition announced a $10 million fundraising campaign in February geared toward creating a new food bank market, the goal was to introduce more varied food choices and a sliding payment scale for clients that would help avoid the stigma of food insecurity. McMahon said there are no immediate plans to go to that model.
“We are re-evaluating what the community will need long term,” she said. “We are still living in the moment. We will do what we can to adjust our model to fit the needs of its participants.”
Prior to the pandemic, nearly 4,000 people used a variety of Hunger Coalition programs, including a mobile food truck, gardening work food exchanges, pet food assistance, youth programs and an infant formula initiative.