Linda Schneider, executive director of WGAP, watches as pallets of bananas are unloaded from one of two trucks the agency uses to deliver food. Due to budgetary issues, WGAP will soon have to sell the trucks, leaving food banks in Klickitat and Skamania counties scrambling for a way to ensure food continues to make it onto pantry shelves and to those who need it.
Photo by Amber Marra.
Three food banks in Klickitat County and one in Skamania County are looking for ways to ensure food continues to make it to the shelves and to those in need after the Washington Gorge Action Programs (WGAP) was forced to eliminate its delivery services indefinitely.
Since 1999 WGAP delivered food to the four food banks using two large trucks owned by the agency. In early December WGAP’s Board of Directors found that the nutrition program, which encompasses expenses from the food banks, commodities, and supplemental feeding program, was $26,000 over budget for 2014, according to Linda Schneider, WGAP executive director.
Thanks to donations, that overage was reduced to $12,000, which is just about how much it cost WGAP to maintain and insure its two delivery trucks.
“The insurance and maintenance and repairs and fuel costs are all about $12,000, not including staff to get the food ready for shipments. Primarily we had volunteer drivers, but occasionally we had to send staff. We just don’t have the money for it anymore,” Schneider said.
WGAP’s headquarters and food bank in Bingen sees approximately half a million pounds of food annually that is divided amongst the four food banks it serves. Schneider said each of those banks gets about 14,000 pounds of food per month, all of it currently delivered.
“So now they will be seeing all of this,” she said indicating the pallets of fruits, vegetables, day-old-pastries, diapers, and other goods that were delivered to WGAP last Wednesday.
All of the food there will be maintained until food banks figure out how to get it from the warehouse to families and individuals in need in their communities. The trucks will eventually be sold, but not until every bank has figured out a method of delivery.
“No one will run out of food,” Schneider said.
The refrigerated truck WGAP currently uses was out delivering to the Skamania Branch Food Bank on Wednesday. Patti Nichols, program coordinator, said her husband has a truck that might work.
Otherwise, she’s relying on volunteers to step forward.
“It’s going to create a hardship for us to be sure. We’re going to have to rely on some volunteers to help us go pick up food a couple times per month,” Nichols said.
This isn’t the first time food banks in Klickitat County have taken a hit. During the last decade funding has been cut from every direction.
Schneider offers the example of the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program. Eight years ago WGAP would get $29,000 from the entity yearly, but that has been reduced to $10,000. WGAP also receives funding through the Washington State Department of Agriculture, United Way, and donations.
In the wake of all the budget cuts, WGAP has had to do away with life insurance and employer retirement contributions. Every staff member has had to reduce their weekly hours worked from 40 to 36 and the entire agency, including the food bank, it closed every Friday.
“We really tried to think it through and talked with staff to see what they were willing not to have,” Schneider said. “It’s been one cutback after another.”
Despite all of the cutbacks, reductions in funding, and hardships, Nichols is hopeful the community will be there for the food banks in Klickitat and Skamania counties that serve so many.
“This is an amazing community and whenever we’ve said we’ve had a need they’ve filled it. If we’re short on funds, short on food, short on volunteers, it doesn’t matter, we always get a great response when there’s a cry for help,” Nichols said. “I can’t say enough good things about this community. They just really help this food bank a lot.”