Kitsap County food bank takes a cue from Gig Harbor

Posted on May 2nd, 2024 By:

Walking through the rooms of Bremerton Foodline, executive director Cori Kauk describes her grand vision for the currently under-remodel food bank: A new, inviting floor space for shoppers, more accessible entry points, and redoing a shed out back. 

By comparison, her latest project seems quite small. It needs only a reusable shopping bag and a few helpful neighbors. 

But Kauk is optimistic it could pack a big punch in meeting the growing need for food in Kitsap County. 

A green bag filled with nonperishable food items.

Food Project moves north

This week, Bremerton Foodline launched a website for its Kitsap County Food Project, a community-focused effort hoping to provide more consistent donations.

The process works like this: A volunteer, known as a coordinator, signs up their neighborhood to participate in the food project. They go door to door recruiting their neighbors to serve as donors.

Donors are given a green reusable grocery bag. Each week when they go to the store, they buy an extra non-perishable food item and store it in their bag. Every other month, the neighborhood coordinator collects the now-filled green bags and replaces them with empty ones. The coordinator then delivers the bags to the food bank.

“It’s really pretty simple,” Kauk says. “That’s what’s so amazing about it.”

Increased need

The food project launches as food banks struggle to meet the community’s needs. Demand has increased, particularly since the pandemic, as grocery prices rise. At the same time, supplies and donations have declined.

Alongside this shift, Bremerton Foodline expanded its services last year, going from serving shoppers once a month to once a week. The decision quadrupled the amount of food leaving the building, Kauk said.

Green bags packed in the back of a neighborhood coordinator’s car for donation to the food bank.

“We don’t get enough product for the population we’re serving,” she said. “Our supplies are lean.” 

Kauk, who started a Food Project at the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank alongside Jim and Kris Berry during her decade as its executive director, said the effort could immediately alleviate some of the need in Bremerton and the community food banks it distributes to in Kitsap and North Mason counties.

The project allows the food bank to ask for exactly what it needs, she said. Donors can provide significant amounts of popular foods, like peanut butter or rice. Those items are cheap and easy to donate, but aren’t always given to the food bank in shipments from state and federal providers.  

Those donations free up Foodline’s budget for other needs, including fresh produce or toiletries, Kauk said. They also cut down on donation of less-wanted items, which can clog the food bank’s limited storage space.

FISH success story

In nearby Pierce County, The Gig Harbor Food Project demonstrated the power of the neighborly approach. The project has brought in 15,700 pounds of food to the Gig Harbor Peninsula FISH Food Bank since it launched in March 2023.

Richard Hales and Aleece Townsed brought the project to Gig Harbor. The married couple are former residents of Ashland, Ore., where a Food Project launched in 2009 brings in some 30,000 pounds of food every two months.

“Once people see what you’re doing and understand the simplicity of it, they embrace it,” Hales told Gig Harbor Now when the project launched. “You’re not writing out a check, you’re not getting yourself on a mailing list. It’s just nice and simple and it works.”

The nearly all-volunteer FISH Food Bank serves a monthly average of 862 Pierce County and South Kitsap families so far this year. Executive Director Pamela Leazer said FISH has seen a similar surge in shoppers since the pandemic.

The food project “absolutely makes a difference, and we’ve come to rely on it to keep our shelves stocked,” she said.

Click here for information on the Gig Harbor Food Project. Neighborhood coordinators pick up in the Gig Harbor area on the second Saturday of odd-numbered months. The next pick-up date is May 11.

Conor Wilson is a Murrow News fellow, reporting for Gig Harbor Now and the Kitsap Sun, a newspaper in Bremerton, through a program managed by Washington State University.