Sumner Community Food Bank plans upgrades and expansion

The Sumner Community Food Bank has been a local resource for almost four decades, and they’re looking to make some upgrades.

In June, the food bank at 15625 Main St. E. will get solar panels on its roof to reduce the amount of energy it uses. The food bank will also get a new HVAC system. They’ve been using space heaters and fans for the time being.

“We want to make sure our clients and our volunteers are able to stay warm or stay cool as the need may be,” said Katie Garling, food bank communications manager.

The solar panels are funded through a Puget Sound Energy grant, totaling about $ 125,000. The HVAC system will be funded through a mixture of grants and donations, totaling about $ 45,000. The upcoming upgrades will cost about $ 170,000 total.

“This will cut our energy footprint by 50 percent,” Anthony Apeles, food bank executive director, said in reference to the solar panels during a May 9 City Council meeting.

Apeles said the money they save after the panels are put to use could go toward food purchase expenses. About $ 55,000 of their operating budget is earmarked for food purchases this year, he said.

That includes buying staples such as milk, eggs and meat when the food bank runs out of them, Garling said.

The food bank issued a survey to about 1,300 patrons in March, asking how they can help them better. The survey also asked questions about other places they regularly get food and if they ever felt worried that they would run out of food.

Fewer than 100 people responded to the survey, which was open for about a month.

About 87 percent of survey respondents said they regularly get food at grocery stores. About 36 percent said they visit dollar stores to get food. About 58 percent felt worried they would run out of food.

Some City Council members asked during the May 9 meeting if the food bank has considered adding more hours of operation. Apeles said they would have to ensure they have enough volunteers to handle that before deciding to do so.

Garling said there are between 50-70 active volunteers at the food bank. An average volunteer works about three or four hours twice a week, and fewer than 10 volunteers work on a typical day, depending on the shift and what needs to be done, she said.

The food bank underwent a transformation in June 2021, which was when the site switched from having wall-to-wall storage racks to an open-space market. Now patrons can shop as if they are in a grocery store.

“It just gives them a lot more choice and freedom as to what they actually want to feed their family,” Garling said.

‘Sharp increase of people’

Over 50 families visit the food bank per day since the transformation, Garling said. Before, between 12 to 17 families visited. On April 29, 88 families visited.

Those who visit the food bank are not only from Sumner but also from cities such as Auburn, Puyallup, Bonney Lake, Tacoma, Kent, Federal Way and Seattle.

“We have a sharp, sharp increase in people coming in at the moment,” Garling said.

The food bank’s operating budget this year is about $ 445,000. Garling said about 45 percent comes from donations and about 45 percent come from grants. The remaining 10 percent comes from other sources such as fundraising events.

The food bank receives its goods from nonprofit organizations such as the Emergency Food Network. Companies such as Costco, Fred Meyer and Sysco also donate goods.

Aside from fresh and packaged food, the food bank also offers pet food, child care items, as well as personal hygiene products. A community resource center with computers and flyers with information about jobs, the school district and other resources is also available onsite.

The food bank has been present in the community since around 1985, Garling said. They have operated in a basement of a local church and the local library. Around 2002, the local rotary club gifted them their permanent home.

In the future, food bank officials hope to continue working on capital projects, such as a walk-in cooler to increase storage capacity, an awning to protect patrons from the weather, and display cases to be used in the market area.

Food bank officials are also hoping to expand the site to include extra warehouse space to store goods, retail and office space, a parking lot as well as a loading dock for trucks delivering goods.

They’re still looking for grants and donations for capital projects and to expand the site, Garling said.

Those looking to visit the Sumner Community Food Bank can stop by between 10 am to 1 pm Monday through Saturday and 5 pm to 7 pm on Thursdays.

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Angelica Relente covers topics that affect communities in East Pierce County. She started as a news intern in June 2021 after graduating from Washington State University. She was born in the Philippines and spent the rest of her childhood in Hawaii.

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