Miguel Jimenez is exactly where he wants to be—six months into his job as Resource Development Coordinator at the Rainier Valley Food Bank (RVFB). “I started getting interested in food systems in college,” he says. “I worked an endless series of dead-end jobs after school, until I realized that’s not where I wanted to be in life. This position puts me on a trajectory to stay in this field and do something where I actually wake up in the morning and am excited to go to work.”
Energetic and exceedingly amiable, Miguel fits right in at RVFB. The atmosphere is light, folks are smiling, and everyone, whether they are giving food away or graciously accepting it, is happy to be here. The facility, which is the third busiest food bank in all of Seattle, is one of the smallest by square footage. “Working here is kind of like this endless game of Tetris. We’re constantly moving stuff around to make space for people and food,” Miguel says. “That’s what we’re into, people and food.”
Each month, RVFB serves up to 18,000 guests and distributes close to 40,000 pounds of food. To ensure supply keeps up with demand, RVFB accepts donations from a wide variety of sources, including Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, Seattle Urban Farm, Beacon Food Forest, neighborhood p-patches, food drives, churches, schools, and a litany of other community partners. City Fruit is proud to count itself among them.
Most Tuesdays during harvest season, City Fruit harvest coordinator Luke Jesperson drops off several crates of freshly picked South Seattle produce, often in excess of a hundred pounds. Harvested in the same neighborhood, sometimes just down the street, the fruit is picked from trees whose owners want to make a difference in their community. That spirit of sharing, of ensuring that no perfectly good food goes to waste, is of paramount importance to RVFB. Produce makes up a big portion of the food they give away, and a concerted effort is made to offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. City Fruit, Miguel says, is crucial in this regard.
“We couldn’t do a number of the things we do without what City Fruit does for us,” he says. “We put a strong emphasis on being able to distribute food that is healthy, nutritious, local, and, if possible, organic. City Fruit is a perfect storm that meets all of those needs for us. Luke brings us beautiful plums and apples, even figs on occasion, which are just phenomenal.”
Those who rely on RVFB for food every week often don’t have access to quality produce anywhere else. The folks at RVFB believe that it shouldn’t matter how old you are, how much money you make, or where you come from; everyone deserves to eat, and to eat well. They offer three programs: general onsite food distribution, home delivery for individuals with travel or physical limitations, and the to-go or “cold bag” program, which provides guests without access to a kitchen or storage enough pre-prepared food to eat throughout the day.
“Food isn’t just food,” Miguel says. “It means something to people—culturally, historically, socially. We serve single mothers, young couples, elderly couples, big families, lots of immigrants from all over the world including China, Vietnam, Ukraine, the Horn of Africa, Central America, and from all over the US. We view food as a gathering point, as a way to bring community together over one fact that’s true for all of us, which is that we need to eat.”
One of the single mothers Miguel refers to is Marquita Mychon, who volunteered at RVFB when she was homeless. Now she lives in Covington with her son, Sidney, and partner, Wesley, whom she met while volunteering at RVFB. “It’s been a way to give back,” she says, reflecting on the two-and-a-half years she has spent volunteering with RVFB. She gestures to a truck dropping off diapers in front of the food bank. “They recently started a program giving out 45 diapers a month [donated by West Side Baby],” she says, smiling as she looks down at Sidney, cradled gently in her lap.
City Fruit gives away much of its harvest in the summer, a fact not lost on families with children that rely on free and reduced lunch during the school year. Fruits like apples, plums, and pears, which make up the majority of City Fruit’s harvest, are staple lunch snacks. What City Fruit donates to RVFB during the summer months helps to ensure that families can maintain healthy eating habits year-round.
“Every time Luke brings in 3-4 crates of apples, that week 150 kids in the neighborhood get a snack,” Miguel says. “That’s one fruit tree in the city, one way that somebody can sign up with City Fruit without having to do a lot, and the impact is just enormous in our neighborhood. That’s kind of extraordinary to think about. They’re not eating a bag of potato chips. They’re eating something that you grew yourself. That’s cool. That’s where you see how a small effort can make a really large impact.”
One tree. That’s all it takes to provide a healthy snack to hundreds of people a week. If you have a fruit tree and would like to donate some or all of your harvest next year, please contact City Fruit at [email protected]. Together, we can make the 2015 harvest the best one yet.
Brian Mickelson is the development manager at City Fruit. He can be reached at [email protected].