As with state at large, area food banks under pressure

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WALLA WALLA — The number of people seeking assistance from Washington state’s food banks in Washington remains high, and Walla Walla County is no exception.

According to the state Department of Agriculture, one in five of the state’s residents visited a food pantry at least once during the past year. Between June 2012 and June 2013, there were more than 8.35 million visits to food pantries.

That was a drop of 115,000 from the previous year indicating there were fewer clients visiting a food pantry for the first time, said agriculture spokesman Mike Louisell. However, statistics showed families already relying on food pantries were going more often and needed more food.

Locally numbers have climbed for food pantries in Walla Walla County served by the Blue Mountain Action Council, said Gail McGhee, BMAC food bank manager.

Between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013, food pantries distributed 410,164 pounds of food to clients, McGhee said. During the same period in 2011-2012, that figure totaled 352,445 pounds.

Statewide, figures collected by the state’s Food Assistance Program showed families already relying on food pantries were going more often and needed more food, Louisell said in a release.

Agriculture Department Director Bud Hover said food pantry workers will be under pressure during the holidays to fill the growing need of many families experiencing hunger.

“Food banks and other assistance programs are always stretched thin this time of the year as we approach the holidays,” Hover said. “Our partnerships with emergency food providers, farmers and ranchers help contribute to food security, but every donation counts, including cash donations that can give food pantries the flexibility to buy healthy food options.”

The department’s Food Assistance Program uses state and federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide food and money to more than 500 food bank distribution centers, food pantries, meal programs and tribal voucher programs.

Some key facts about feeding the hungry in the state and locally this past year:

Statewide, 132.3 million pounds of food was distributed to clients, slightly lower than the previous year’s record of 132.7 million pounds. In the area served by BMAC, which includes Walla Walla, Columbia and Garfield counties and the city of Dayton, 1,164,126 pounds of food were distributed to clients between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013, McGhee said.

• Each person using a food bank in the state received an average of 15.84 pounds of food with each visit, a slight increase from the previous year. In Walla Walla County, each client received an average of 11.4 pounds of food with each visit.

• On average, clients statewide visited their local food pantry six times in the past year, slightly above the previous fiscal year. Average number of visits for clients of local food banks were not available due to differences in the distribution system, McGhee said.

To donate to food bank or pantry, call BMAC’s warehouse at 509-529-3561 or contact the WSDA Food Assistance Program at foodassistance@agr.wa.gov or 360-725-5657 for information.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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