Food Bank Satellite Challenges Misconceptions
Every Tuesday, from 4 pm to 6 pm, the Thurston County Food Bank Satellite opens it’s doors to Greeners and other community members. The satellite was launched on April 9, 2013, and is based in Seminar II, building E2115.
“This project began in Police Services as the ‘Food Pantry’,” said Zachary Fleig, a volunteer of the satellite food bank. “But their space was too small for the downtown food bank to support.” Fleig estimated that the satellite serves between 40 to 80 customers every Tuesday, most of them students.
“We want to respect the dignity of the customer, because there are a lot of misconceptions about hunger and poverty,” continued Fleig. “Even though people come here because they can’t purchase food, we want to respect them and give them what they want, instead of giving them what we want.” The satellite embraces this philosophy by encouraging the “shopping model”, where customers can swap out food they don’t want to eat with extra food that the satellite may have in their pantry. This way, the satellite’s customers have more choices on what they have to eat, Fleig explained.
Corey Coomes, an Evergreen student and satellite customer, is familiar with the food bank downtown, but was new to the satellite location at Evergreen. “I get food stamps, but sometimes that isn’t enough,” he said. “As far as expenses go, like bills and food and rent, I need all the help I can get.”
Jason Ewell, another student and satellite customer, said that he comes to the satellite to help support his family of four. “I don’t have work right now, and it seems like a godsend, really. I came last week for the first time. It was a little intimidating, because I had never done this before.”
James Higgs, one of the founding volunteers of the satellite food bank, often explains to students how food is appropriated to them at their location. “Bags are divided into sections, based on how many people will be eating from them,” Higgs said. Customers coming in to pick up food for themselves will carry out a paper bag – customers picking up food for two or more people will leave with a cardboard box.
Currently, the satellite serves only non-perishable foods, and tries to include canned vegetables and soups in each bag or box. Celi Tamayo-Lee, the community food justice catalyst on campus, also said that they hope to expand to include dairy and produce in the bags through the satellite’s connections with the downtown farmers market and Blue Heron Bakery. “I’m most interested in helping students in the community to get access to free food,” she said. “We would also love to teach students about food assistance and food stamps.”
The Department of Social and Health Services in Washington State is responsible for overseeing certain federal assistance programs such as Basic Food. Student status can interfere with student eligibility for food stamps, however, unless the student meets one or more special eligibility requirements, for example:
a) The student is under 18 or over 49 years of age
b) the student is employed at least 20 hours a week (can be self-employment, provided that their income from such employment equals or exceeds what they would make at federal minimum wage 20+ hours a week)
c) is enrolled less than ½ time (meaning 5 or less credits at Evergreen)
d) are currently employed under work-study
e) students who are considered legally unable to work or have dependents may have special eligibility not affected by the above requirements
By Ray Still and Jaclyn Hashimoto