It was 1967, and around the nation, social, political and racial tensions simmered and occasionally boiled over. A group of Seattle community leaders formed The Ecumenical Metropolitan Ministry (EMM), an interfaith organization committed to identifying and addressing the primary problems of the poor and disadvantaged.
Hunger, the EMM learned, was one of the biggest problems in Seattle and beyond. People had insufficient resources to feed themselves and their families. In response, the ministry founded Northwest Harvest, originally viewed as a short-term solution to help fill the gaps.
But history had other plans. The long-term need for Northwest Harvest was sealed in 1970, when the Boeing Company began a round of layoffs that would cost 60,000 jobs over 18 months. The faces of the hungry were no longer limited to the poor and homeless, as thousands of formerly middle class people, now out of work, wondered how they would feed their families. They had no money to buy food, but their assets—homes, cars, boats—disqualified them for government assistance. With so many unemployed, there was no market for the belongings they tried to sell.
With social service agencies already stretched beyond their limits, the EMM rose to the challenge, working closely with other organizations to collect food to respond to the crisis. Northwest Harvest became a separate, secular entity and grew from a Seattle resource into a statewide hunger relief agency, distributing food to a network of independent food banks around Washington State.
Decades after the Boeing unemployment crisis, the need for emergency food assistance remains. Today, Northwest Harvest secures approximately 32 million pounds of food each year for distribution through a network of more than 370 partner food banks, meal programs and high-need schools.