BELLEVUE, Wash. — Nonprofits in Washington are transforming foodbank culture by changing how people access the food they need. In Bellevue, the nonprofit Bellevue LifeSpring says its food voucher program has become a more efficient and convenient way for families to purchase groceries.
The vouchers are provided through Bellevue LifeSpring's Breaktime Mealtime Program. Bellevue LifeSpring President Ken Russell said the idea for the vouchers started as a way to think outside the box.
"In 2018, we found that the students were reluctant to pick up the boxes because it was uncomfortable to walk down the hall with this box," explained Russell.
Prior to the vouchers, kids in the Bellevue School District were sent home with boxes of food. Russell said the boxes were hard to conceal, which had some kids leaving them behind because they were embarrassed. There was also concern the boxes weren't being filled with items that met a family's needs.
Thinking out of the box meant giving families access to grocery stores available to everyone. The nonprofit now partners with Safeway and gives families a $25 voucher per child to buy groceries.
"We wanted to retain dignity and just use it because they need it," said Russell.
The Breaktime Mealtime Program has been used for school vacations, and times kids aren't getting meals provided by their school. When the pandemic hit, the program turned into the easiest way to ensure almost 3,500 Bellevue children has access to food.
"We basically mailed the vouchers directly to the homes," said Russell.
Russell said the families use the vouchers at Safeway, which then bills Bellevue LifeSpring for the cost. The nonprofit is putting out a call for donations. It expects to give more than $300,000 in vouchers this holiday season.
"Who's the end-user here? That's the children. We want to make sure the children are comfortable with this program, they can easily use it and we can easily administrate it," said Russell.
KING 5’s annual Home Team Harvest drive to benefit Northwest Harvest is underway. This year’s goal is to raise 21 million meals. Ways to donate: Online at king5.com/hometeamhavest, text “HOMETEAM” to 41444 or starting Nov. 1, visit your local Safeway or Albertson’s to give $5, $10 or $12 toward grocery cards.
Watch the Home Team Harvest broadcast special on Dec. 4 at 10 a.m. on KING 5, king5.com and the KING 5 mobile app.