Bonney Lake applies for a grant to replace aging food bank building

At the moment, the Food Bank is still riding a high from holiday donations - the end of the year is their busy season and it helps carry them through the lean months of winter - but as the recession drags on, more come into the tiny Food Bank building.

Director Stew Bowen poses in front of the Bonney Lake Food Bank. The city of Bonney Lake is seeking a grant to rebuild the aging building.

When Stew Bowen stands in the warehouse section of the Bonney Lake Food Bank and stretches his arms out, they very nearly reach the walls on either side.

At the moment, the Food Bank is still riding a high from holiday donations – the end of the year is their busy season and it helps carry them through the lean months of winter – but as the recession drags on, more come into the tiny Food Bank building.

“The need is going to go up,” Bowen said matter-of-factly. “And the building is way inadequate now.”

According to Bowen, when he took over as director of the food bank in September 2007 they were serving about 100 families per month. Today, that number has grown to 700 each month.

“It’s a huge increase,” he said, speaking from his “office,” the bed of his pickup truck parked behind the building. “The capability to do what we do; this building just isn’t working.”

At an estimated 750 square feet of usable space, including storage and distribution – the Food Bank is cramped, at best. The staff has arranged and rearranged the inside to try to make the most of the space, but it’s just not enough for their needs. In fact, Bowen has some food stored off-site to save space in the building.

On top of that, the building itself, which is owned by the city, is old and in disrepair.

“It’s in very poor condition,” said city administrator Don Morrison. “We’re not sure how much longer it’s going to stand.”

But Morrison, Bowen and the city are hopeful their needs will be heard at the state level as the city prepares an application for a Community Development Block Grant they how will provide money to replace the food bank building.

If their application is selected, the grant could mean up to $750,000 for the city.

“It would mean a new building,” Bowen said. “It’s really an awesome thing that they’re thinking that way.”

Community Development Block Grants are federal dollars that are distributed by the state. They must benefit moderate- to low-income residents.

Morrison said he was at a workshop late last year thinking the city could apply for block grant money to improve Cedarview Park, but learned park applications do not get much consideration, at which point his thoughts turned to the food bank and its aging building.

“It’s something we really need,” Morrison said.

Bowen agrees.

Though he is always very careful to thank the city and the residents for the space and is obviously appreciative of use of the building, it was designed as a temporary solution to house the food bank, back before the recession and the increase in need and numbers.

Last year, from Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012, Bowen said the food bank ran 1.2 million pounds of food through its doors. And because the building has no loading dock or pallet-accessible doors, the process is very labor-intensive.

“Everything is done by hand,” Bowen said.

Mayor Neil Johnson said the food bank was important to the city and trying to find funding to help them was the right thing for the administration to do.

“I definitely think it’s important,” he said. “We’re always looking for a way to make an improvement there.”

The final decision by the state on where block grant money will go will be made later this year. And whether Bonney Lake receives some of it or not, Bowen said the food bank will continue to make the most of what they have to help as many people as they can.

Eventually, both Bowen and Johnson would like to see more regional solutions to this issue, with Bowen wanting to include a resource area to help the folks who have lost jobs improve their skills and find new work.

But for now, Bowen will keep doing what he does with the space he has and will continue to hope that one day soon, the Bonney Lake Food Bank will have a little more space and the ability to help just a few more people.

“Hunger is a community problem,” Bowen said.

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