A Seattle food bank pioneers a holistic approach to solving hunger

Across the greater Seattle region, small and large, newly established and long-time nonprofit organizations are working together to provide needy residents with financial, food, health and housing assistance. Two such organizations, FISH (Friends in Service to Him) Food Banks of Pierce County, which has been in operation for 35 years, and the South Sound Outreach Services (SSOS) in Tacoma, a 13-year-old entity, joined forces in 2009 to create Connection Centers—“one-stop shops” at food banks that offer additional SSOS resources to help individuals and families in crisis find the community resources they need in a single, familiar location.

So far, the partnership has created five centers around Pierce County that each offer a single point of entry for dozens of community resources, government subsidies, and medical and housing options. SSOS outreach specialists are available during all food bank hours, helping those in need navigate these complex systems. The first two Connection Centers opened in the fall of 2009 in Graham and Edgewood, and the third opened in 2010 in Southeast Tacoma to an overwhelmingly positive response from food bank clients.

Start-up funding was provided through the vision of the United Way of Pierce County and the Gottfried and Mary Fuchs Foundation, along with other community support. Bank of America provided $50,000 in 2010 to support two more Connection Centers that have since opened in Lakewood and Northwest Tacoma. It has also bolstered the case for continued support of the Connection Centers.

“Bank of America was inspired to support FISH and its collaboration with South Sound Outreach because of the innovative ways they respond to the diverse needs of so many people in Pierce County,” said Rick Larsen, Bank of America Market President for the Tacoma area. “The efficiencies created by the Connection Centers will enable many more individuals and families to obtain some of the critical health and social services support and guidance they need with a visit to one Center.”

The Connection Centers come at a time when the demand is enormous; in 2010, FISH fed more than 364,000 Pierce County residents through its seven food bank locations—a 50 percent increase compared to 2008. And in the first seven months of 2011, FISH has had another 18 percent increase, serving more than 244,000 people through July 2011 alone.

The bank’s contribution provided $15,000 for FISH Food Bank coordinators and $20,000 for a half-time SSOS Outreach Specialist to staff the two newest centers. Another $15,000 was put toward emergency assistance funds so that staff could allocate for long-term solutions to prevent further crises such as homelessness.

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