Interactive map helps those in need find free food across King County as COVID-19 pandemic continues

Putting food on the table is getting harder these days as the COVID-pandemic lingers on. More than ever before people across King County are turning to local nonprofits for a meal.

“What we’ve seen is that the number of people experiencing food insecurity right now is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The need for food is an emergency,” said Elizabeth Kimball of Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Kimball is the health department’s Food Security Programs manager. In partnership with the City of Seattle, the department created the COVID-19 Seattle-Area Emergency Food Resources Map. It’s an interactive map so users across the county can easily find organizations in their neighborhoods offering free food. Kimball said the tool already has more than 31,000 views.

“Some people are experiencing food insecurity for the very first time because of the pandemic. They’ve lost their jobs and other family members have lost jobs. Therefore, they’re dwindling their savings, and ability to purchase food is not a reality anymore,” said Kimball.

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From pantries to food banks, drive-thrus and even student to-go meals—the resources are color-coded with hours of operation and contact information listed on the map.

“We wanted to make that tool public. We wanted to make it easily accessible, visual so that people could just click in their neighborhood to see what was closest and what was open,” said Kimball.

Help Northwest’s food bank was one of about a dozen organizations listed in Auburn.

“We are here because we love to help people and we love to see lives changed for the better,” said Pastor Jim Brass of Help Northwest. “Our motto is, ‘If you need something take it, if you have something give it.’”

Help Northwest’s food bank is small, but mighty. They have been serving food to about 360 people per week. Brass said they have seen an increase in first-time clients, as they struggle to make ends meet during this pandemic.

“New people who have lost their job and their whole circumstances has changed started coming here,” said Brass. “They had been doing online deals for their unemployment week after week after week and now they’re at eight weeks and they haven’t got a penny yet. So, that’s really scary. And how do they pay their rent? How do they survive?”

Alicia Zarate picks up bread, black beans and other groceries almost every two weeks to help feed her family.

“It’s really good because a lot of people don’t have no job. And It’s easy to come here because they are really nice to us,” said Zarate.

“It’s not just about the food, it’s giving people hope, giving them resources,” said Brass.

Brass said the food bank is also in great need of volunteers. Several people have stepped down to reduce their exposure to COVID-19 in the smaller space. Those interested in lending a hand can find more information on the Help Northwest website.

Kimball also encouraged donors to use the emergency food map to learn what local nonprofits need. She said many organizations have voiced their need for money to buy goods. Groups like Help Northwest are also looking for non-perishable items and blanket donations.