Feeding the hungry on the Key Peninsula


Sara Thompson

Food insecurity is a real problem in this country — one in five families in Washington receive support from food pantries supported by state food assistance programs. The Key Peninsula is no exception.

Two food banks with permanent locations — Key Peninsula Community Services (KPCS) and Bischoff Food Bank — as well as one mobile unit, FISH Food Bank — are serving local residents. All have proud histories and help to ensure that people do not go hungry.

The story of a recent new arrival illustrates some of the struggles. (She faces a domestic violence threat and asked to remain anonymous.) Last July, her ex-husband took her two young sons. Homeless, she and her boyfriend lived in a tent in Tacoma and moved to the Key Peninsula in December at the suggestion of a relative. They were able to get a tent from KPCS and lived in an abandoned house while getting food support from both food banks.

Now she has legal help through the YWCA and a place to live near the Bischoff Food Bank, where she volunteers. She has been reunited with her children. The oldest, who has moderate autism, is enrolled in kindergarten and she hopes her youngest will enter the Head Start program at Evergreen. She is looking for part-time work.

“People here have been amazing and helpful. Now I have a safety net. If they don’t have what I need, they help to find it,” she said.

Penny Gazabat, executive director at Key Peninsula Community Services, said the need for food has increased dramatically since 2008, when she first started. “We had 97 families in our food basket program in 2008, and we have 300 now.”

Ed Townson, executive director at the Bischoff Food Bank, said, “Before I got involved, you could not have convinced me that there was this much need. It breaks my heart. The current government help is just not enough. We have about 10 new families register with us each month.”

Key Peninsula Community Services

KPCS was founded in 1982 and was located in Vaughn until 1989, when it moved to its current location just south of Home. It depends on volunteers but also has two paid staff. The food bank manager salary is paid through a community block grant and fundraising provides a salary for the driver of the refrigerated truck.

The bank partners with Food Lifeline in Seattle, which gives access to QFC, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and Target; independent relationships were developed with Costco and Safeway. The food bank also works with the Tacoma-based Emergency Food Network (EFN), which is a distributor to many food banks and hot meal providers in Pierce County.

KPCS is a member of the Food Bank Coalition, a group of more than 60 food banks in Pierce County. This organization advocates for food insecurity issues and, as a member, KPCS is eligible for a higher volume of food and for the federal commodities program.

The nonprofit serves residents of the Key Peninsula. Clients register once a year and are asked to show a photo ID and a piece of postal mail to confirm residency. If they are homeless, this is waived. There is an income cap — 185 percent of federal poverty level — but proof of income is not required.

A total of about 36,000 pounds of food is distributed each month through two programs: Bread Closet and food baskets.

The Bread Closet is open four days a week and individuals can come whenever the bank is open.  Participants are asked to register once a year and they sign in with each visit so that the number of individuals served is known.

Bread, desserts, fresh produce, dairy and deli items are available, depending on what has been donated. About 2,000-2,700 individuals a month benefit from this program. Products past their prime are donated to farmers to feed livestock.

Households in the food basket program receive a three-day emergency supply of food once a month. The basket provids three meals including meat, cereal, boxed food, coffee, oil and seasonings for everyone in the family. Some household cleaning and personal hygiene products are also available. Gazabat noted that most families report the basket lasts for nearly a week.

Bischoff Food Bank

The Bischoff Food Bank was founded in 2006 by Ross Bischoff. At first, he simply set up a table and handed out food at the Key Peninsula Lutheran Church. Although he died shortly after, his work was continued by Wally Haugaard.

The operation outgrew the church and in March 2013, it moved to Key Center for a year. In March 2014, the KP Bischoff Food bank decided to end its partnership with FISH Food Banks of Pierce County and was temporarily without a home. In June 2014, the food bank moved to its current location in Home, off Key Peninsula Highway.

It is a volunteer operation, with about 16 volunteers working at the food bank and driving to pick up donations. They partner with NW Harvest, Budd’s Food Distribution in Tacoma and the Emergency Food Network. In addition, Food Market in Lake Kathryn Village donates three times a week.

They support families throughout the entire Key Peninsula. Customers register by filling out an intake form that provides statistical information. There are income guidelines but proof of income is not required.

The bank is open five days a week but it has been known to make emergency deliveries to families who lack transportation. Clothing, household items and appliances are also available.

Kimberly Miller, board vice president and warehouse operations manager, said that on a typical month they serve 2,000 individuals and 450 families, supplying 35,000 pounds of food.

Individual donations (food, service and financial) are welcome. Miller noted that they are in particular need of canned goods and protein. Produce is welcome. As with KPCS, food past its prime is donated to farmers for livestock.

Bischoff welcomes those seeking community service hours (high school students meeting requirements or for court-mandated issues such as paying off traffic violations).

FISH Food Banks of Pierce County

FISH Food Banks was started in the 1970s by a group of churches. It provides food on the Key Peninsula once a week through a mobile food bank on Fridays from 2 to 7 p.m. First-time clients are asked to bring photo ID and the full names and birthdates of household members. The food bank operates next to the Key Peninsula Latter Day Saints Church.

Hot meals provided on the KP


The Peninsula Lutheran Church offers breakfast at 9 a.m. on first and third Saturdays, and dinner on the fourth Saturday at 3 p.m. It is located at 4213 Lackey Road KP North, Lakebay

Sunday Community Meal

KP Community Services offers a Sunday community meal at 3 p.m. As many as 50 people come each Sunday, including some seniors and families. Oliver Coldeen coordinates the program. Four churches rotate to sponsor the meal —Longbranch Community Church, plus Gig Harbor’s Wellspring Fellowship, Harbor Christian Center and St. Nicholas Catholic Church.

Harbor Christian Center manages the entire meal. For the others, Coldeen shops for what is on sale at Safeway and plans the menu. The churches provide the manpower and pay for the groceries. KP Community Center donates the facility.

“It can be a bit like the Iron Chef, getting a meal on the table for 50 people in two hours,” Coldeen said.

Leftovers are boxed and sent home with those who want them.

Thursday Afternoon Meal

Lakebay Community Church offers a Thursday afternoon meal each week at 2 p.m. About 25 people attend, and after the meal there is a supply of donated food for them to take home. It is coordinated by Howard and Diane Johnson as a part of the Mingle and Minister Church Ministry.

A team of nine volunteers from several churches takes turns preparing the meal, with most ingredients donated by Panera, Budd’s Food Service, Grocery Outlet and, from time to time, Lulu’s Home Port.

“We have a good time and welcome newcomers,” Johnson said.

Need Help? Bischoff Food Bank 1916 Key Peninsula Highway, Lakebay (425) 444-2374 kpbischofffoodbank.org/home.html Hours: Tuesday-Friday: 2– 6 p.m., Saturday: 2– 5 p.m.

Key Peninsula Community Services 17015 9th ST KP N, Lakebay (253) 884-4440 keypeninsulacommunityservices.org Hours: Tuesday, Thursday & Friday 10 a.m. – noon and 12:45 – 4 p.m., Wednesday 10 a.m. – noon and 12:45 – 6 p.m.

FISH Food Bank 12521 134th Ave KPN, Gig Harbor (253) 383-3164 fishfoodbanks.org Hours: Friday 2 – 7 p.m.