The Northshore Senior Center has gone from serving about 30 people a week from its closet-sized food pantry to feeding 700 people per week, within just a few months, according to CEO Brooke Knight.
The onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US has caused demand to skyrocket since the center closed its doors in March, Knight said.
“The challenge for us is that we see the need continuing to grow, and that’s going to be hard for us to sustain in the long run,” she said.
The pop-up food pantry is open in the Bothell senior center parking lot on Tuesdays and Fridays, and hot meal delivery and pick up goes from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Both programs require monetary donations to keep food stocked without exceeding the limited amount of storage space at the center, Knight said. Staff members shopping for the program spend about $1,200 per week, she said.
Although the center's priority is to serve food to seniors and people with disabilities, Knight said, it has maintained enough capacity to not turn away anyone. She said the people utilizing these programs are primarily those who are elderly or may have underlying health conditions and don't feel safe going to the grocery store as well as younger families who’ve seen a recent drop in income due to closures or layoffs.
"A lot of people are saying they've never had to ask for help before, never had to go to the food pantry before," Knight said.
The services are offered free of charge. The hot-meal program has typically operated by donation, but the center doesn't want staff to handle cash, for the time being, Knight said.
One couple who utilized the grocery delivery had fallen ill and self-isolated for two weeks while they recovered, she said. The man and woman later tested negative for COVID-19.
“For them, getting food from us was the only way that they continued to eat for the couple of weeks that they stayed home,” Knight said.
The center recently opened a second commercial kitchen and hired another chef to help meet the growing demand. The hot meal program had served about 60 people a day, five days a week before the center’s closure, Knight said. Now, staff members are delivering around 125 meals each weekday.
“We are not at capacity yet and we will continue to grow that over the coming weeks,” she said.
There is a food donation bin in front of the Bothell senior center where shelf-stable items may be dropped off. The pantry is often in need of hot and cold cereal, peanut butter, jelly, canned fruit and vegetables, cooking oil, and shelf-stable milk.
For some, a visit to the senior center parking lot provides a different type of nourishment in wake of the loneliness sometimes associated with the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.
“We’re getting a lot of people who just want to talk,” Knight said. “Some of the folks who are coming to pick up food from the parking lot are saying ‘this is the only interaction I have with people at all.’”
• The pop-up pantry is open to seniors and people with disabilities only from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays. It opens to the community 1-2 p.m. Grocery delivery is available to households in the region.
• To-go hot meals are available for pick-up or delivery from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Monday through Friday.
• To inquire about services, call 425-487-2441 or email information@my northshore.org
• To donate, visit www.tinyurl.com/NorthShoreCrisis