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May 15, 2013 at 6:00 AM

U District food bank expands ambitiously

Joe Gruber photo by Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times

Joe Gruber photo by Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times

There will probably be canned peas — but maybe also fresh ones harvested from a rooftop garden. Clients will come for powdered milk — but might also find chilled cartons from a refrigerated dairy case.

There will be more food available — and it will be better food.

That’s the ambitious vision of the 30-year-old University District Food Bank, which has raised more than $1.75 million from grants and private gifts toward plans for a new home. The organization, which has leased space in a church basement throughout its history, is now kicking off plans to raise the final $1 million needed for its home in the University Commons project planned for a former used car lot on Roosevelt Avenue near 50th Street.

The nonprofit, which currently serves about 1,100 families per week, is publishing a fundraising cookbook with recipes from Seattle’s star restaurateurs, and is holding a food truck roundup on Sunday (May 19), for its “Fight Hunger Build Hope” campaign.

When the new project is complete, “We won’t have to worry so much … We won’t have to turn down donations because we don’t have room for them,” said Joe Gruber, the food bank’s executive director.

If plans succeed, the bank will move from its 800-square-foot basement space, where clients line up outside regardless of rain or cold, to a 7,000-square-foot home in the four-story Commons project. Nonprofit partners on the site will own and manage low-income housing for formerly homeless youth and run job training programs and other services.

Plans call for more food storage and preparation areas in the new space, allowing the bank to serve more people, to give out more food per person, and to handle more perishable items like milk and fruits and vegetables. It’ll have amenities as practical as an indoor waiting room, and as aspirational as the rooftop garden, along with space to teach cooking and nutrition. For the first time, the “shopping area” will be accessible, so people in wheelchairs or using walkers will be able to pick out their own groceries without help.

Also for the first time, the organization will have a separate room where staffers can talk with clients privately about sensitive issues, e.g. whether they need help signing up for food stamps, or could use services for victims of domestic violence.

The extra refrigerated space is especially important given “the changing nature of food-bank donations,” Gruber said. Grocery stores used to donate dented cans or boxed foods close to the expiration date. “Now, there’s more of an aftermarket for that. You’ve got your dollar stores, you can box things up and send them to other countries.” But fresh perishable goods can still be given out locally — if the food bank has a way to get them to people who need them.

A feasibility study showed the new project could work for his neighborhood, Gruber said, despite the daunting fundraising goal for an organization with an annual operating budget around $550,000. And the early support from foundations and community groups has given him a lot of hope.

Gruber had seen other food banks collaborate with complementary agencies on building projects, so knew it was possible, and could let them all “work with more and work more efficiently.” With new additions like the rooftop garden, he said he’s seen food banks in more rural areas, like Vashon and Whidbey islands, use gardens as a way to teach skills as well as provide more food, and knew it had a purpose even in a major city.

“I recognize that in an urban area you’re not going to be self-sufficient based on the produce you grow on your patio, so this isn’t a cure-all,” he said. Despite that, he said, it still offers a lot for clients — the ability to produce some amount of nutritious fresh food, planning, life skills — and “a little more freedom.”

The food truck roundup to raise money for the “Fight Hunger Build Hope” campaign will run from 3 to 7 p.m. Sunday (May 19) at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, 6615 Dayton Ave. N. Participants include Hallava Falafel, Molly Moon Ice Cream, Skillet Street Food, Seattle Biscuit Company, Oola Distillery, Fremont Brewing Company and more. Cost: $25, open only to those 21 and over, tickets available online here. The “Community Cookbook” is being given out for contributions of $100 or more, but will be available for $25 later through the website.

Here’s a recipe from the cookbook:

How To Cook a Wolf’s Panzanella Salad

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

2 cups blanched arugula
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 loaf crusty bread, sliced on the bias
1 clove garlic, minced, plus 1 whole clove for bread
1 cup controne beans, cooked
½ pound mixed toy box tomatoes (or your favorite kind), sliced in half
Juice of 1 lemon
1 shallot, minced
1 / 8 cup minced chives
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

PREPARATION
Place arugula in blender with ½ cup olive oil and purée to a smooth consistency, adding a touch of water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and reserve.
Lightly brush bread slices with some of remaining olive oil, whole garlic clove, and salt and pepper. Grill on both sides.
Place beans, tomatoes and minced garlic in a bowl. Dress with olive oil and as much lemon juice as you like. Sprinkle with shallots and chives. Toss and check seasoning.
Place arugula purée on a serving platter. Place grilled bread overlapping down length of platter. Add dressed tomatoes and beans over the grilled bread. Garnish with chives and cheese, season with salt and pepper and serve.

– From Chef Michael Gifford, as published in the University District Food Bank’s fundraising cookbook, “Community Cookbook”

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