More than 200 volunteers are busy, month in and month out, picking up food donations, filling clients’ wish lists, delivering food and helping in many other ways at the FISH food bank.
FISH board president Ron Coen (left) gets an update on construction of the new FISH facility. Photo courtesy of Cathy Cummings
One of those volunteers, a college student named Gianini Watts, is the son of a man who’s well known to Seattle Seahawks fans. Wallace Watts’ alter ego is Captain Seahawk, a colorfully dressed fellow who’s at every Hawks game wearing a Seahawks headdress and a Seahawks-themed outfit — usually in a front-row seat in the end zone, next to Kamhawk, also appropriately attired. Captain Seahawk recently visited FISH to help unload donated groceries and announce that he plans to give a donation to the food bank. A video that was shot during his visit will be aired during the pregame show Thursday when the Hawks play the Los Angeles Rams on national television.
Capt. Seahawk’s donation is typical of the kind of support that has kept FISH going for 45 years and has helped to raise $5.8 million for the new 11,600-square-foot building that’s under construction just 376 feet from the current location at 4425 Burnham Drive. That facility will help FISH meet the community’s needs for many years to come, said board president Ron Coen.
Captain Seahawk (Gig Harbor resident Wallace Watts) wheels in a cartload of food donated to FISH. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now
When you look at the numbers, you get a sense of the work FISH food bank does, and why that new facility is so important.
In 2020, FISH volunteers served 10,091 individuals including 4,210 families and 3,673 children. FISH provided $311,794 in financial aid and $8,550 in student aid to help pay for gas, bridge tolls, AP test fees and other essentials. FISH also provided nearly 212,000 meals last year. This year, in August alone, FISH provided food for 258 families and provided 13,000 meals.
And they did all of that in a building that has a mere 4,200 square feet of usable space.
The new digs will provide much-needed space for storage, plenty of refrigerators for fresh food, private meeting rooms and larger and more spacious areas for personal shopping for food, clothing and household goods, according to FISH founder and food bank coordinator Jan Coen. “I’m thrilled to death about the new building,” she said. “We’ve needed more space for years and we’ve been thinking about this since 2014.”
FISH volunteer Kevin Cummings helps Capt. Seahawk load up a cart with food donations. The captain visited FISH recently to announce that he plans to give a donation to the organization. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now
The new building is designed for flexibility, including private areas for client interviews and a private office for use by social service agencies. “And we’ll have heat in the winter and summer cooling,” Coen said.
Those private spaces are especially important, Ron Coen said, because FISH is “more than a food bank. One of our main purposes is to validate our clients — to assure them that coming to FISH is nothing to be ashamed of and that they’re not alone. So we’ll have spaces where they can have private conversations about their financial needs or educational plans and meet with social service representatives and counselors.”
He was quick to applaud Ratcliffe Gagliano Architecture for the design of the new facility, and the builder, Washington Patriot Construction. Both firms are based in Gig Harbor. He noted that the owner of the land where the new facility is being built generously gave FISH a 99-year lease, for $1 a year.
FISH volunteer Judy Kafka fills a client’s wish list with items from the food bank. Kafka has been a FISH volunteer for 18 years. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now
The estimated cost for the building itself is $2.8 million. Preconstruction expenses such as site development and improvements design, building design and permits, are about $800,000. Other “hard” costs such as site work, landscaping, fixtures, equipment and furnishings are budgeted at $1.8 million. Another $1.8 million will cover “soft” costs such as utility connection fees, taxes, LEED certification costs, campaign expenses and contingency allowance. The capital campaign goal also includes $500,000 for an endowment fund as an ongoing source of operating income, according to the FISH website.
The new building should be ready for occupation next summer, Jan Coen said.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered the way that FISH interacts with its clients.
From left, Ron Coen, president of FISH board of directors; Kamhawk; Jan Coen, FISH founder and coordinator; Capt. Seahawk. Charlee Glock-Jackson / Gig Harbor Now
“COVID constraints have really changed how we hand out food. Because our space is so small, we really don’t have room for proper social distancing, so clients have to give us a list of the things they need, and then our volunteers do the “shopping” for them. And we can’t offer clothing or household goods right now,” Jan Coen said. “One of the things that I miss most is the personal interaction with our clients. Sixty-five percent of the people we serve are elderly or disabled and personal interaction is so important for them.”
In addition, there have been “an awful lot of families who’ve been laid off during COVID, and they have looked to FISH to help them feed their kids,” she said.
It’s not at all unusual for former clients to return to FISH as volunteers, or to show up with a carload of food to donate.
Architect’s rendering of the new FISH facility that will open next year just steps away from the current FISH building.
“So many just want to give back to FISH because we helped them in their time of need,” Ron Coen said.
The community has come to realize that “there are people here in Gig Harbor who have real needs. And this community is very responsive,” Jan Coen said. “We’re so grateful for the generous, caring people in our community. When we put out a call that we need something, the response is immediate. It’s so gratifying.”
Donations are always welcome, but in September and October they seem to dwindle down.
“It’s probably because school has started back up and people’s attention sort of shifts. So right now our shelves are kind of bare,” she said.
Hopefully, that will change as the holiday season approaches and donations will pick up again.
To learn more about FISH’s services, or to make a donation, visit ghpfish.org.
We can’t do it without you. Public service news requires community support.
Sign up now for the Gig Harbor Now weekly newsflash to stay abreast of everything that’s happened in the past seven days.