At the start of the new decade, Covington Storehouse Director Liesl Kershner was busy. Between organizing volunteers, setting up donations and formatting a new grocery-store style food bank, she had her hands full.
Kershner is one of only two paid staff members at the food bank but has been involved with the food bank for many years before becoming a board member and then the director. Situated behind Real Life Church in Covington, the small building sees many families visit the food bank for assistance.
Towards the end of 2019, the Maple Valley Food Bank worked with Storehouse to transition from a traditional setup where clients received a box of groceries each week to a shopping-style food bank. This was in part because the Maple Valley Food Bank will no longer serve Covington residents.
“We have been working with Storehouse as they transition to a full grocery store-style food bank,” Sigurros Welborn, the Program and Volunteer Coordinator for the Maple Valley Food Bank, stated in an email. “Together a decision was made to have Storehouse serve as Covington’s neighborhood food bank starting January 1, 2020. Maple Valley Food Bank still serves all residents in the Tahoma School District, Black Diamond, Ravensdale and Maple Valley.”
This switch meant more people would be coming to Storehouse for their weekly grocery needs.
“We’ve always served the 98042 area code,” Kershner said. “We used to also serve some of Maple Valley and Black Diamond, but we just serve Covington now … to better service the community and to get better support. It makes more sense to have the local support.”
Kershner said Maple Valley kept seeing an increase in numbers which was leading to a large need in donations.
During the holidays, Welborn told the Covington Reporter the Maple Valley Food Bank was seeing a large increase in clients.
“We are giving out more food and serving more clients than we used to,” Welborn said in a previous article. “Last Tuesday (Nov. 19, 2019) we served 181 families. That’s probably the highest number we’ve ever done in a day. That’s emptying our shelves. While food drives are happening, and we are getting donations, we are not meeting our current need.”
After local celebrities and a few neighborhood Facebook groups shared the Maple Valley Food Bank’s concerns, the community raised over $8,000 for supplies.
Storehouse Communications Director Cassie Laney said on an average day, outside of the holiday season, Storehouse sees 20 to 30 clients come and receive groceries. It averages out to 80 to 100 clients a week.
“We are seeing a lot of new clients because some of them used Maple Valley and had to start coming here, but some of our other clients were from Kent but now are having to use the Kent Food Bank,” Kershner said. “So we lost maybe 50 percent of our clientele but then we gained another 50 percent from Maple Valley.”
While the transition from pre-packed boxes of food to a grocery store-style has been new, this isn’t the first time Storehouse has had to evolve. Twenty years ago the nonprofit started as a food delivery service. Volunteers would deliver boxes of groceries to about 20 clients every two weeks, but as the need grew so did the nonprofit.
The Storehouse is now open 4 – 6 p.m. on Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturdays. Clients are greeted inside Real Life church and are met by friendly volunteers, including Emily Brander, who works to provide outside resources to clients.
“I used to be a head start teacher in California and part of head start is you do home visits,” Brander said. “And that was my favorite part. So a couple of years ago Pastor Steve asked for volunteers and I signed up, and I love it.”
Resources include help with domestic violence, lawyers, apprenticeships, utility bill payment and more. Brander said she sees about three to five people on average each day the Storehouse is open.
After clients check-in, they wait for their turn till a volunteer comes and guides them to the Storehouse. There they get a shopping cart and a chance to pick and choose specific groceries for their families. There are fresh vegetables such as tomatoes on the vine, choices of dairy-based milk or plant-based milk, cheese, yogurt, baby food, diapers, cereal, bread and canned soup. The groceries come from many donors including the Covington Fred Meyer, the Maple Valley Costco, Cisco food services and more.
Another volunteer, Alejandra Genner, started delivering groceries 17 years ago since she Is able to speak Spanish and help the local Hispanic community meet its needs. Genner loves the new Storehouse grocery store and thinks it benefits all of the clients.
“People are happy,” Genner said. “They’re excited they can choose what they want or what they need. Sometimes when we used to do the box, the box was just the things we had. Before they had to throw it away or give it away, but now they don’t.”
The Storehouse has a high need of specific items to keep their shelves stocked for Covington residents, according to a city press release. Volunteers are hoping people can donate these items more since they are being grabbed from the shelves quicker than other items.
High need foods include;
•Crackers (saltines or Ritz)
•Jam or jelly
•Oil and vinegar
•Diapers in larger sizes such as 4, 5 or 6