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Food for Thought: May 2023

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Fruitvale Market Grand Opening  |  2023 Legislative Session Debrief  |  The Intersection of Mental Health and Food Insecurity

Fruitvale Market Grand Opening – A Free Grocery Store in Yakima

After 3 years of raising funds, building relationships, construction and site visits, challenges and successes, Northwest Harvest held the grand opening of Fruitvale Community Market on April 4th. Over 1,000 people were in attendance to see the unveiling of the new facility. The crowd filled with anticipation, phones held high capturing the moment Northwest Harvest Yakima staff and members of the Yakama Nation cut the ribbon officially opening Fruitvale Community Market.

Northwest Harvest's Fruitvale Community Market in Yakima - image of crowd watching ribbon cutting on opening day

The day of festivities were bustling with families from all over Yakima, partners lined the campus offering resources, and Northwest Harvest staff leading tours of the market. Community members were enjoying tacos and tamales from local food trucks, tents with pot painting for kids (and a few adults too), a pirate doing magic tricks, and a never-ending line for funnel cake.

On the opening of market day, pallets stacked 6 feet high with boxes of Yakama Nation Farms produce were forklifted into the back to be sorted. Northwest Harvest staff quickly filling bins of Yukon Gold potatoes the size of baseballs alongside a variety of other root vegetables, fresh produce, eggs, milks, herbs, poultry, and dry goods. One shopper in line for the market asked a staff person, “so how does this work?” The staff person replied, “You just go shopping, start anywhere you like” the woman’s face lit up as she grabbed a basket and walked into the market, bins overflowing with onions and apples, shelves packed with, oats, beans, pasta, rice, and an assortment of produce all grown locally in Yakima. Staff and volunteers buzzing around re-stocking, shelves, bagging groceries and greeting incoming customers to the market.

Close to 700 families came to shop at Fruitvale on opening day. This marks the second free grocery store Northwest Harvest has opened – now serving Yakima, which provides access to quality nutritious food grown locally from the community, for the community. An additional feature of the new market includes a drive-thru window, allowing for minimal contact grocery pick-up, increasing accessibility to free nutritious food. The new 10.6-acre distribution center, which will quadruple the storage capacity for fresh foods from the previous facility, will bolster Northwest Harvest’s infrastructure for distribution throughout the state.

While we celebrate another step toward sustainable access to quality food for those in need, hunger still exists disproportionately throughout the state, especially in Yakima. Our response to end food insecurity in Washington has taken the effort of community voices, partners, like-minded organizations, countless financial contributions, and many more in the movement to provide equitable access to nutritious food. Thank you to all those who have helped Northwest Harvest fulfill our goal in Yakima – let’s continue together to build a Washington without hunger.

2023 Legislative Session Debrief

Well, folks, it happened: we wrapped up the 2023 legislative session on Sunday, April 24. Our partners, community members, and staff really showed up to advocate for anti-hunger and anti-poverty measures this year!

Now that the ink has dried on the bills that have been sent to the Governor’s desk, it’s time to share where we ended up with the approved budgets for the 2023-2025 biennium. Overall, there was lots of good news regarding the funding for our legislative priorities:

  • Funding for Food Banks: Food banks will have increased resources to respond to increased need in their communities, ensuring more Washingtonians are fed.
  • Increased Access to Fruits and Vegetables: Nearly 900,000 Washingtonians rely on SNAP to put food on their tables, yet the average benefit of just $2/meal is inadequate to afford fresh fruits and vegetables. Thanks to a one-time increase in funding, programs that provide matching dollars when SNAP is used to buy produce at farmers markets and grocery stores will draw down more federal dollars that will add more places to shop and use these benefits. There is also a one-time increase to expand Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers to 8,000 more seniors and make benefits more accessible!
  • Funding for School Meals: Funding was provided to maintain the ability for high poverty schools to continue providing school meals at no cost to their students and add an additional 90,000 more students eating meals at no cost across the state. That will mean 58% of our children will be better prepared to succeed in school thanks to consistent nutrition!
  • Funding for Postsecondary Student Basic Needs: In Washington, nearly half of all community college and university students are struggling with housing and food insecurity. Now public universities and community technical colleges in our state will have resources to help students apply for public and community resources to help them afford food, housing, childcare, health care, and other essential needs so they can focus on learning and get the best possible start to post-graduation success.

You can read more about other legislative wins on our blog. Thank you for supporting public policy that grows food justice in Washington.

The Intersection of Mental Health and Food Insecurity, by Justin Vierela, Philanthropy Officer

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to focus on the importance of mental well-being. One in four people worldwide will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organization. Daily life, relationships, and overall health can be profoundly affected by these issues.

headshot of staff member Justin Vierela, Philanthropy Officer

My own experience with mental health issues began when I was 24 years old. I was struggling with depression and anxiety, and I knew I needed to seek help. Through therapy, I learned coping mechanisms and strategies for managing my mental health, and I was able to regain a sense of stability and control in my life. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the same level of support and care that I did.

A recent BMC Public Health study on food insecurity in America found that food insecurity is associated with a 257% higher risk of anxiety and a 253% higher risk of depression. Food insecurity creates stress and uncertainty, which can exacerbate existing mental health issues or trigger new ones. This is especially true for vulnerable populations, such as children and the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

What can we do to address the link between food insecurity and mental health?

To address both the immediate and long-term consequences of food insecurity on mental health, there are a variety of tactics. Providing barrier-free access to healthy and nutritious food through programs like Northwest Harvest’s Community Markets and our Food Access Network is a crucial first step. Shopping with dignity is a cornerstone of Northwest Harvest’s work, which removes obstacles such as identity checks, income verification, and proof of address. As a result of eliminating these intimidating requirements, shoppers can experience an atmosphere more like a grocery store and reduce the stigma and anxiety associated with accessing services.

Next, it is vital that we continue to share information and resources about mental health services with individuals and families struggling with food insecurity. We can reduce the shame associated with seeking mental health care and provide much-needed support to those who need it most by sharing information about mental health services and creating low barriers of entry.

It is also vital to address the systemic issues that contribute to food insecurity, such as the housing crisis, racism, and social exclusion. This requires a comprehensive approach, including policy changes, community engagement, and advocacy efforts.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to take time to reflect on the impact food insecurity can have on mental health, and to advocate for steps we can take to address this issue. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues or food insecurity, remember that help is available. Together, we can work towards a future where everyone has access to the resources they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives.

For 24-hour emotional support and referrals in Washington state, contact the Washington Recovery Help Line at (866) 789-1511, or the mental health crisis line in your area.