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Puget Sound-area food banks remain busy as unemployment declines

Before the pandemic, the Tukwila Pantry Food Bank served on average 200 families a week. Now, they serve around 1,500 a week.

TUKWILA, Wash. — In an average year, the Tukwila Pantry Food Bank serves 60 to 80 south King County families three times a week.

That has not been the case in the past year.

“Now we’re serving 500 to 800, three times a week, and that’s families not individuals. Five hundred families on Tuesday, 500 families on Thursday and 500 families on Saturday,” said Pastor Jan Bolerjack, Food Bank board member.

Those families are coming from all over, not just Tukwila and SeaTac, but from Bellevue, Redmond, and Tacoma, Bolerjack said.

“People are going far and wide to get the food that they need," Bolerjack said.

Data from the state Employment Security Department show the unemployment rate dropping.

The start of the pandemic had those rates at their peak. In April 2020, the unemployment rate hit 16.3%.

The unemployment rate dropped over the following months, as more jobs have been added. In November, the unemployment rate was down to 6%

But if more people are getting jobs, why are food banks still so busy?

Bolerjack said the level of need is not necessarily reflected by the unemployment checks.

“The need hasn’t changed for us. In fact, it continues to go up. Many of the people that we serve here aren’t eligible for unemployment, they weren’t working in a steady employable place prior to the pandemic, they were day laborers or already just piecemealing three of four jobs,” Bolerjack said.

It’s people like Allen Rettzer. He’s out of a job and uses the food bank to get by.

“I’m down to like two or three dollars in my pocket and that’s it,” Rettzer said.

He says the $600 stimulus check is a big help, but that doesn’t end the struggle for him and many others in his same position.

“It’s still going on and it’s affecting people,” Rettzer said.

Bolerjack said the need will continue for some time.

“I don’t think there’s going to be hope until we get some people back to work, until the economy can really open again, which means after we’re vaccinated and we’re safe again,” Bolerjack said.