The current location for the University District Food Bank in Seattle is a mere 800 square feet in size and has limited storage, shopping space, and no waiting area for clients. Even though they are one of the smallest, they are one of the busiest food banks in the city.
But there’s good news – they’re moving in to a new home!
The food bank’s three-year, $3 million capital campaign includes community partnerships with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and YouthCare, construction began this month on a building that will provide low income housing for youth and adults as well as 6,000 square feet of space for the food bank. The food bank successfully secured $250,000 from the City of Seattle in support of their new building. For many years food banks in Seattle have been building relationships with city councilmembers including site visits to many food banks in the area, which made this request much easier.
“The city already supports food banks from an operational perspective,” said Joe Gruber, Executive Director of the food bank. “When we go in to talk to them we already have a mutual understanding of the need for food in our community and our role in providing this vital service.”
Joe, his staff, volunteers, and donors met with nearly all of the councilmembers again in the months leading up to the city’s budget process. “You really only have a brief, half hour meeting where you can pass along a lot of information, so it’s important to listen to their questions and make sure you quickly follow up with additional information,” Joe said. They started early to identify a few champions on the council that they could rely on. They focused on demonstrating how much of their funding was coming from community members and other grants, but that government also had a meaningful role.
When it came time for budget hearings, they carefully selected their panel of speakers to support their request: a local business owner, a neighborhood activist, and a volunteer. This group made the case in front of the council, and the food bank activated their supporters in the community to send emails and make phone calls at key times and to key councilmembers. Ultimately they were successful, getting the $250,000 they asked for appropriated in the final budget – a huge win for an agency that is very much in need of a new home.
For any food banks who might be thinking about making a request like this, Joe said to think about it like any other donor stewardship:
“If it’s about asking and never sharing, giving or involving, you won’t be successful. It’s about the years long relationships the food bank has with councilmembers and staff.” He said it’s also important to find a champion early on and to work with them to build support.
Taking small steps can make it easier. Joe recommends a few plan that helped him in this process:
- You can start with just a phone call to your legislative office to say hello or get involved in the annual budgeting process.
- Invite elected officials to visit your food bank without asking for anything.
- Remember they are people too – getting comfortable talking with elected officials makes it easier when you are ready to make a request.
The new space will include 2,400 square feet for food bank clients to select food, provide a warm, inviting waiting room and be ADA accessible. It will also allow them to serve 33% more clients within two years, accept 25% more in perishable donations, and increase the total pounds distributed by 40%.
In addition to the food bank, the new building – University Commons – is a collaborative development to provide our community with low-cost housing, life and job skills training spaces. Future plans also include a roof top garden, as well as cooking and nutrition classes. As the Northeast District Council said in their letter of support – in short, it will be the resource low-income families deserve as they work to stabilize and improve their lives.