New FISH food bank opens in Key Center


Rick Sorrels

Bischoff FISH food Bank members pose for a pre-opening photo in front of the new Key Center food bank shortly after signing a building lease agreement. Pictured, from left, are Deb Irwin, FISH vice president, Beth Elliott, FISH executive director, Karen Jorgenson, Back Pack for Kids, Amber Peterson, food bank volunteer, Carol Larson, food bank coordinator and Wally Haugaard, food bank director. Photo by Michelle M. Mondeck, KP News

The Key Peninsula Lutheran Church food bank operation has moved to Key Center.

The new Bischoff FISH Food Bank has opened up at the former Key Fitness Center, at 8908 Key Peninsula Highway.

The lease was signed on March 19 by Deborah Irwin, the treasurer for FISH (Food In Service to Him); David Shaw, the treasurer for Peninsula Community Foundation; and Pat Bottiger, the property owner.

The reason for the move is that the food bank grew too big for its facilities, according to the coordinators. The move was not, however, without difficulty or dispute.

The church-located food bank was founded in 2003 by the late Ross Bischoff.

Bischoff, with the assistance of a handful of dedicated volunteers, had a freehand in managing the food bank until his death in 2008. Bischoff picked up “past due” food from Walt’s Grocery (the predecessor of Peninsula Market) and distributed it at the church to those in need.

His daughter, Carol Larson, said, “At the time of my father’s death, there were about 25 customers receiving food from the food bank on a regular basis.”

With Bischoff’s declining health, Wally Haugaard took over the reins of the food bank and “expanded the program exponentially,” according to Rev. Heinz Malon, the church pastor.

In 2013, records show that 1,000 families (more than 5,000 family members) use the food bank on a regular basis. In 2012, more than $800,000 in food was distributed.

Volunteers working at the new Bischoff FISH Food Bank were captured unloading food and supplies at the Key Center facility the day before opening to the public. Photo by, Ed Johnson, KP News

The food bank now has 54 volunteers and receives food donations from Peninsula Market, two Albertsons stores in Tacoma, FISH of Pierce County, Food Lifeline, NorthWest Harvest, Emergency Food and some state programs.

In order to expand the food donations to meet rising demands, Haugaard signed agreements in 2011 affiliating the food bank with FISH of Pierce County.

In March 2011, a lease agreement was signed whereby FISH would pay the food bank’s utility expenses.

During 2012, concerned with accountability, the governing board for the church adopted a more active role in monitoring its various programs.

In December, Haugaard presented a proposal to the church’s executive committee for the food bank to move to a larger and different location.

Subsequent discussions revealed two diverse points of view: One was that the church “owned” the food bank and that unauthorized agreements had been signed, and the other that the food bank only operated from the church and had never been “owned” by the church.

A January 2013 letter from FISH further revealed that FISH believed that it now “owned” the food bank due to the signed agreements.

The true arrangements between Bischoff and the church may never be known, as Bischoff and all of the other individuals involved in 2003 are no longer available. It is also possible that no arrangements regarding ownership had even been discussed, with attention instead focused solely upon providing food for the needy.

According to Malon, a number of parishioners have left the congregation over this dispute. At press time, he was drafting a letter to his congregation reminding them that Haugaard has done “exceptionally well at expanding the depth and breadth of the food bank and its services.”

He said the purpose of their outreach programs is to serve those in need.

“What is most important, is the number of people being served. Our food bank program has spun off and birthed something new,” Malon said.

Haugaard said the food bank is recognized as the largest and fastest growing food bank in Western Washington. The new location started operation March 21.

The food bank received donations of food, with very little money for its overhead costs. FISH now covers all overhead. Both Haugaard and Beth Elliott, the president of FISH, said they are looking to build a new facility for the food bank on the Key Peninsula.

“FISH is a nonprofit, with all the directors being volunteer, with no salary,” Elliott said. “Only 3 percent of our operating budget goes to overhead. The other 97 percent all goes to programs (the food banks).”

She said FISH has been in Pierce County for 35 years. Last year, they distributed 5,500,000 pounds of food to 550,000 people. Not counting food donations, they also spent more than $500,000 purchasing food.

The Backpack for Kids program at the Lutheran Church has also moved to the new Key Peninsula Highway location with the food bank. Between 25 and 30 percent of the food for the program comes from the food bank.

The Backpack for Kids program provides a package of food for every weekend during the school year for children eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Nineteen churches participate in the Backpack program, including five on the KP: Key Peninsula Lutheran Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Waypoint Church, Lakebay Community Church and Lakebay Christian Assembly.

The food bank is not affiliated with the one operated by the Key Peninsula Community Services and Senior Center near Home.

The Key Center food bank will distribute food on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday starting at 2 p.m., and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday starting at 11:45 a.m. Organizers recommend arriving early to register. They say parking is limited, but offer a shuttle service from the O’Callahan’s parking lot during operation.

For information, call (253) 312-4489.