Salvation Army volunteers fight food insecurity in Yakima

YAKIMA, Wash. — Since the pandemic began, local food banks have been feeding an unprecedented number of food-insecure families; hundreds of those families received free boxes of frozen meals Wednesday morning in Yakima.

“It’s a little bit shocking because I think a lot of us don’t realize exactly how many of our neighbors are in need of food like this,” said Nicholas Helms, director of the Salvation Army in Yakima.

The Salvation Army held its third large-scale, drive-thru food distribution during the pandemic Wednesday at State Fair Park. While the event was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., cars were lining up at the Gate 5 entrance as early as 7 a.m.

“It just shows the importance of food for families right now and the need that they have for it,” Helms said.

Helms said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity in Yakima was already high, with about one in three families visiting a local food bank in any given year.  With people living in uncertain times and many without work, Helms said that number has increased.

“I don’t have a number to put on it, but I would say we’ve seen, through our food bank, one-and-a-half to two times as many families coming through to receive food,” Helms said.

Helms said those waiting in line for a food box ranged from frequent food bank visitors to those experiencing food insecurity for the first time in their lives. He said the large-scale event is a good introduction for the latter, who may feel uncomfortable visiting a food bank for the first time.

While there are no income or other eligibility requirements for the drive-thru, contactless Salvation Army food bank — located at 9 S. Sixth Ave. and open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays — where people are asked their name and date of birth. No personal information is required for the large-scale food distribution.

“It’s been a strange year, right? And so we’re trying to meet needs however we can and for whomever we can,” Helms said.

The two previous distributions held during the pandemic fed between 1,500 and 2,000 families, Helm said. The event Wednesday fed between 750 and 1,000 families.

Each box contained enough frozen meals to feed a family of four for two to three days, along with bottled beverages and face masks. Helms said the plan is to hold similar events every few months or whenever they have a large surplus of perishable items.

“It’s definitely a blessing to our community it’s a blessing to us to be able to do this,” Helms said. “There’s a lot of planning that goes into it. There’s a lot of logistical work that has to be done beforehand but it’s a few hours of stress for a benefit that lasts a lot longer than that.”

More information about the Salvation Army and how to get involved can be found here.