At first glance, Edmonds Food Bank isn’t a flashy organization – it operates in the space below the United Methodist Church in Edmonds. But beneath that modest exterior is a well-oiled machine powered by hundreds of volunteers – including members of the CWM community – distributing groceries to those who need them.
“We serve anyone who needs food and for whom we are the closest resource,” said Casey Davis, executive director of Edmonds Food Bank and one of the organization’s seven professional team members. “Many of our patrons live farther away, but they work or attend school in Edmonds. Personal information or residency does not prohibit anyone from receiving groceries – our priority is getting food to people who need it.”
On Mondays and Tuesdays, a line of vehicles snakes through the parking lot of the church. Customers pre-order online and choose pick-up times or wait on standby to submit orders based on the size of their household and dietary preferences. Every order is different, and all items are chosen by the customer. Inside, volunteers transform the church basement into a mini grocery store and walk through familiar departments – dairy, produce, baked goods and meats – selecting and bagging food and essentials before ferrying them to waiting vehicles.
The operation fills 11 online orders every 10 minutes – a feat even more exceptional considering that staff and volunteers set up and dismantle the entire operation each day, leaving no trace in a space that also hosts church business, Scout meetings and more in the evenings and off-days.
“It’s like a flash mob food bank,” Davis said. “With a dedicated space of our own, we could be open to the community more days a week and offer many more services.”
The food bank is gearing up for a capital campaign with just that goal in mind: a building of their own with a dedicated shopping area, kitchen, community room, and flex space that community partners could use to offer primary health care, legal aid and other needed services.
A CWM family connection
The Edmonds Food Bank mission is close to our hearts at CWM. Dr. Tom, a former OB/GYN, surgeon and grandfather to our own Shilo Lockett and Morgan Arford, has been volunteering there for four years, with a break during the COVID pandemic.
“It’s a wonderful group of people to work with, and I like the idea of what we’re doing for the community,” Dr. Tom said.
Today at age 96, he’s the man behind the bread counter, helping volunteer shoppers select loaves, rolls, sweets and more from the range of fresh-baked options supplied by local grocery stores and other partners. Across the room, another longtime volunteer – also named Tom and just a hair younger at age 95 – manages the dairy section.
The “Twin Toms,” as they are known, are two of 300 volunteers ranging in age from 6 to 90-plus who devote a collective 3,000 hours a month to the food bank’s complex operations.
Paul and Deb Hawley, CWM clients for more than 20 years, have been dedicating their time to the Edmonds Food Bank since April 2020. Deb found her niche putting together care packages for low-income seniors, and Paul volunteers as a personal shopper, filling and packaging online or drive-up orders.
“There’s really no reason not to volunteer when you’re retired, especially during a crisis like the pandemic,” Deb said. “There was this huge need – which has continued to grow – and we had plenty of time to help.”
“It’s great to meet new people – and great exercise,” Paul said. “At the same time, they make volunteering accessible, with very few barriers to entry, so anyone of any ability can contribute.”
Food bank volunteers complete a short application and a basic Washington state background check. Teens who have completed 8th grade can volunteer on their own, and younger helpers are welcome too, as long as they have an adult with them.
“High school students basically kept us running in the early days of COVID, when seniors were encouraged to stay home,” said Davis. “I can’t overstate the dedication of our young volunteers.”
Volunteering at the food bank is also a way people of any age can get creative with their contributions. No matter your skill set, there’s likely a way you could help. For example, in addition to filling orders, volunteer drivers pick up food from partners throughout the community, including more than seven grocery stores, Community Loaves, Northwest Harvest, farmers markets and more. This year, food bank volunteers picked up weekly from local growers at the Edmonds Museum Summer Market and the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market, bringing in over 20,000 pounds of fresh produce.
“If you want to help but have complex needs or mobility issues, we will create a space for you,” Davis said. “If we can find volunteers willing to contribute to a project, we can make it happen. Everyone is welcome here, whether you’re a customer, volunteer or donor.”
Innovating and adapting to meet community needs
Before 2020, Edmonds Food Bank served around 200 households per week. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that number climbed to 450. Today, it peaks at around 1,100 in a week, depending on the time of the month – 900 more households than three years ago.
Food bank patrons include people without a permanent place to live, seniors whose retirement income isn’t keeping up with inflation, and working individuals with SNAP benefits who need a little extra to fill the gap. A number of current customers were food bank volunteers or donors before the economic downturn.
The pandemic also dramatically changed the food bank’s distribution model. In past years, patrons shopped indoors, similar to a grocery store. When precautions shut down in-person gatherings, the organization pivoted to its volunteer-fueled personal-shopper model. To further boost their reach, food bank organizers also host pop-up distribution points to reach areas that face barriers in accessing traditional food bank services and deliver directly to patrons with mobility issues as well as to community-based organizations.
Through all the changes, organizers and volunteers take great care to accommodate food sensitivities and allergies, offering gluten-free and diabetes-friendly foods, among other specialized options.
“Food is actually medicine for our bodies,” Davis said. “If a food bank is not focused on nutrition, then you are offering somebody in a stressed body more stressors on their system.”
The team also thoughtfully accommodates cultural needs and preferences, including collaborating with the Korean Community Service Center in Edmonds and the Latino Educational Training Institute (LETI) and Washington West African Center in Lynnwood. Through the partnerships, volunteers curate and distribute culturally relevant ingredients that members of their communities commonly request. The food bank also offers online ordering and other communications in five languages.
“We’re always thinking about new programs and trying to identify places in the community that we’re not currently reaching,” Davis said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re so focused on moving to our own space so that we’ll be better equipped to evolve as our community’s needs increase and fluctuate.”
With the support of board members and others in the community, the food bank has identified a building location and has begun to raise awareness and foster public support.
To learn more about Edmonds Food Bank’s volunteer opportunities, with links to online ordering and additional information about its capital campaign, visit www.edmondsfoodbank.org/volunteer.
How you can help
Edmonds Food Bank's top needs include:
Paper and plastic bags (gently used with no tears or crumpling)
People who are passionate and want to get involved
Board members who are willing to drive engagement in the community