CHELAN, Wash. - Food banks and other hunger-fighting groups in Washington are gearing up for another winter of record demand. Today and Friday they are meeting in Chelan to share ideas and learn more about how to advocate in Olympia and in Congress on behalf of themselves and their clients.
Yvonne Pitrof, executive director of the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank on Vashon Island, says it has been difficult to plan this year. Since Congress hasn't passed a new Farm Bill and could reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) by billions of dollars, emergency food providers are on edge, says Pitrof.
"Everything we're hearing with the Farm Bill - with the proposed cuts - is extremely scary. We've already been seeing such increases at our doors, all across the state. We've all been really struggling to keep up with need during the recession."
Pitrof says through the summer months, her food bank served at least 30 percent more people than the previous year.
The head of the Food Research and Action Center addresses the conference today. A recent poll by that group found 75 percent of voters do not think cutting food assistance is the right way to reduce government spending.
Julie Washburn, executive director of the Washington Food Coalition, says keeping SNAP assistance intact is not their only concern. Every time emergency heating assistance, rent assistance or any other program to help the poor is cut, she says, food providers see a spike in need.
"We've sort of seen an environment where these cuts have continued for the last few years. Every time a cut like that happens, that sends more people to a food bank's door."
More than 15 percent of Washington households - about 382,000 - receive SNAP assistance, a figure that includes one in four children in the state.
Information about the conference is available at www.WaFoodCoalition.org