As reliance on food support continues to rise, the Salvation Army has finished renovations at a new food bank location that the organization hopes will have the capacity to serve more people while providing a more dignified experience for clients.
Starting Tuesday, Nov. 7, the Christian-based human services organization will begin to operate its food bank and service center out of a newly renovated church on the corner of G and 2nd streets. The food bank will be open from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and continue that schedule each week.
Where pews formerly held churchgoers each Sunday, fresh produce and non-perishables sat ready for their first clients as the Salvation Army on Monday held a grand opening for the building, marking a several-year transition from the organization’s old headquarters in downtown Aberdeen.
“This has been a long time in the making,” said Kim Gilbert, who will run operations at the new building as its service center coordinator, before thanking a myriad of donors who helped the project along.
In February 2022, the Salvation Army sold its former headquarters on Wishkah Street for $350,000 to the city of Aberdeen, which plans to turn the building into the Aberdeen Museum of History. That money, plus grants and community donations paid for renovations to the old church building, where work began in April.
The Salvation Army’s local advisory board began to look for new uses for the building after it closed as a church five years ago. Gene Schermer, a board member of 25 years, said that closing coincided with the transition of the Aberdeen Salvation Army from a corps — a team of local officers and pastors — to a service center, which negated the need for the organization to operate its own house of worship. Community donations helped dedicate the church to the Salvation Army in the 1960s, according to Schermer.
The biggest benefit of the new food pantry will be its “client choice” model, said Shaun Jones, a regional service extension director with the Salvation Army. Instead of lining up on the sidewalk of Wishkah Street while waiting for volunteers to slide prepackaged boxes of food through a window, clients can peruse shelves to their liking and select the items they want underneath the cover of the church’s wood-paneled roof.
“The idea is to stop giving people a box of stuff they may or may not want,” Jones said. “If they want corn instead of green beans, they can have corn instead of green beans. I think it’s a model that helps with the dignity of the process of asking for food, but also it cuts our waste down to almost nothing.”
The client choice model makes up 92% of Salvation Army food pantries across the Northwest, said Lt. Col. Cindy Foley, a commander with the organization’s Northwest division.
At the renovated church, new amenities — a walk-in fridge, walk-in freezer and extra storage space — make the food pantry more versatile, Foley said, especially when capitalizing on leftover products from grocery stores or fielding collateral deliveries from food truckers.
“No one wants to see people hungry,” Foley said. “There is enough food available. We just have to have the right mechanisms to be able to do that. This client choice pantry is an incredible model of how everyone can work together.”
Foley said the Salvation Army can now expand their work at the new service center location as needs change. Kim Gilbert, the Salvation Army’s local service center coordinator, said a future service could include providing hygiene items, adding that she is working to collaborate on a hygiene drive project with a student at Aberdeen High School — a partnership primed for growth given the new service center’s proximity to the school district.
The larger space will also assist the Salvation Army in disaster relief efforts. A new washer and dryer, a kitchen and a shower will provide suitable living quarters for Salvation Army workers deployed to Grays Harbor in the event of an emergency.
The number of people relying on the Salvation Army in Aberdeen for food has increased threefold in recent years, according to previous reporting by The Daily World. At the same time, food supply to local food banks, including donations, has dropped.
Altogether, including other services like access to case managers and shelter, the Salvation Army served about 36,000 people in Grays Harbor County last year, and 620,000 people across the Northwest, about a 20% increase from the previous year, according to Foley. Foley said economists predict that trend will continue.
“With rising rents, and especially the escalating cost of food, quite often people don’t realize that their neighbor, who’s never struggled before … they no longer can pay all their bills,” Foley said. “They’re making a choice. ‘Is it gas or food. Is it the light bill or my mortgage?’ That’s where the Salvation Army can come in and be able to provide that relief.”