ARLINGTON, Wash., June 25, 2023—Community leaders gathered to celebrate Perdue Farms presenting a donation to Volunteers of America of Western Washington (VOAWW) for its new Food Distribution Center in Arlington on Friday, June 23.
The 79,000-square-foot facility, located in the Raine Building, serves as Snohomish County’s distribution center for its 19 food banks. In 2022, VOAWW distributed 6.1 million pounds of food to over 163,000 households in partnership with local food banks.
What started from a call in early 2020 to process up to 20 pallets of food turned into a need of 18 semitruck loads to support COVID relief efforts — well over the capacity of the 10,000-square-foot space shared with the Everett Food Bank, Brian Smith, CEO of VOAWW shared.
“We did it! With an incredible team and the help of Mayor Tolbert we were able to secure a vacant grocery store in Arlington,” Smith told attendees. “Within two weeks of the phone call, we were able to set up shop and get 18 semis in and 18 semi loads of food out every single week.”
Because the demand for food insecure individuals was not going away, VOAWW made the investment to establish a permanent food distribution center for Snohomish County.
“I strongly support the work of the VOA,” Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert told the Lynnwood Times. “They have made a huge difference in the lives of people in my community. I am willing to support them in any way we can.”
Mayor Tolbert and Smith shared the genealogy of their roles in addressing food insecurity for tens of thousands of residents throughout the county during and after the pandemic.
“When I got the call that we were going to be receiving that many shipments of food, it was a Hail Mary,” Smith said. “I knew that Arlington of all cities possibly had more opportunities with warehousing; so, I made a request and Mayor Tolbert kindly guided us in the perfect direction.”
Mayor Tolbert was able to secure the former Haggen Grocery building located at 20115 74th Ave NE that was vacant for VOAWW to utilize. The 64,000 square-foot building was equipped with loading bays, permitting for semi-trucks, and had adequate parking.
“It checked off the boxes that Brian and Steve said they needed,” Mayor Tolbert shared.
“We couldn’t do it without your City’s support,” Smith told Mayor Tolbert.
During the Open House event at its new permanent Arlington location at 17212 51st Ave. NE, Suite 100, Perdue Farms presented a $10,000 contribution towards the new food distribution center’s efforts.
“It is good to be among our friends here at Volunteers of America of Western Washington,” Scott Taylor, Perdue Farms Director of Operations said. “Today we are here delivering a little hope. Hope for so many of our neighbors who struggle to put a meal on the table every day, especially in these challenging economic times. On behalf of Purdue Farms, Draper Valley, the Franklin P. and Arthur W. Perdue Foundation, I am pleased to announce today’s gift of $10,000 to help enrich and nourish the lives of those you serve.”
David Ricketts, Plant Manager, and Penny Roodzant, Complex HR Manager, both of Draper Valley Farms a local brand of Perdue Farms, accompanied Taylor. Their gift of $10,000 will provide 4,587 meals to community members, according to Smith.
Scott Rossiter, Senior Director of Hunger Prevention of VOAWW, who will be managing the distribution center shared some basic facts not only about the facility but of the growing demand of food insecurity post-pandemic.
From July of 2022 through May of 2023, of the 8.7 million pounds of food processed through VOAWW’s food distribution center, 2.7 million pounds of food went to other food networks outside of Snohomish County across the state of Washington, Rossiter said. VOAWW’s Food Distribution Center is now a vital resource in addressing food insecurity for the state.
“So far this year, if we keep on the projection that we are on, by the end of the month of June, it will likely be over 255,000 households [over the last 12 months],” Rossiter said. “We have added 100,000 individuals each year over the last two years [needing food].”
The new facility is equipped with two 1,000-square-foot walk-in freezers, vertical shelfing that increases storage capacity by 10,000 square feet, a forklift, one distribution truck, multiple loading bays, a picking and sorting area, and a conference area. The facility is also home to North Sound’s Regional 2-1-1 information and referral system to help residents with basic needs and human services programs.
The millions of pounds of food each year processed through the VOAWW Arlington site is performed by a staff of only four individuals. These outstanding persons are responsible for loading/unloading pallets of food, sorting and picking in preparation for each distribution site, and delivery to offsite locations. Rossiter informed the Lynnwood Times that most of their clients pick up their demands from the Arlington facility on a predetermined schedule. The food is also distributed to food distribution pantries, meal distribution programs, and churches.
“I was here two years ago when it was an empty building, I am just amazed of how much food they can bring in and send out by the truckloads,” Representative Carolyn Eslick (R-Sultan) told the Lynnwood Times. “It is a well-oiled machine they have here.”
The legislature on March 29, 2023, unanimously passed HB 1784 in both chambers that was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee on April 13, allocated $28 million to address food insecurity in Washington state. According to the bill, $20 million went to the Washington State Department of Agriculture to provide grants to hunger relief organizations such as local food banks and distribution centers for the purchase of food and supplies; investments in storage capacity; management of facilities; and operations.
“This is my first time at the facility…very impressive,” Senator Keith Wagoner (R-Sedro-Woolley) said. “It is really important that we have these [distribution centers] to supply the local food banks. One thing I heard that is disappointing is that demand keeps going up. We’re hoping people get better and don’t need to use it, but that’s not really and we have to take care of that need.”