YAKIMA, Wash. — After years of fundraising, planning and building, Northwest Harvest has opened a 200,000 square-foot distribution center, creating 40 new permanent, full-time jobs in Yakima.
The new space can store up to 20,000 pallets of food and is quadrupling the organization’s capacity to store — at premium conditions — fresh fruits and vegetables. That capacity will increase the amount of donations they can accept from local farmers.
That means less food waste for farmers, plus the ability for them to use the cold storage at the distribution center at a low rate if they don’t have enough space of their own to store produce.
Northwest Harvest CEO Thomas Reynolds said it’s important that the new distribution center is opening now, at a time when inflation is up, grocery prices are high and an increasing number of people across Washington State are experiencing food insecurity.
“When people have fresh fruits and vegetables, they’re able to eat healthy, even if they’re struggling to put enough dollars together to go to the grocery store,” Reynolds said.
Lucy Smartlowit, the interim director of Peacekeeper Society, said the problem is especially prevalent in the Lower Valley and on the Yakama Reservation, which has been identified as a food desert.
“We’ve always been a food desert and the lack of transportation is a huge issue for people to have access to food,” Smartlowit said.
White Swan has a population of nearly 800 people, but not a single grocery stores. That means families looking for quick, easy access to food are dependent on whatever’s in stock at the nearest gas station, which can be limited and expensive.
Many families struggle to go further to get their food, either due to not having a car, lacking the money needed to put gas in the car or not having easy access to reliable public transportation.
Smartlowit said many in the Medicine Valley area have to go to the Safeway in Toppenish to purchase food for their families.
“They have to drive almost 30 to 40 minutes just to get there,” Smartlowit said. “With gas prices lately, that’s a huge ask.”
Smartlowit said there’s a handful of food banks, but the selection and hours are limited. Additionally, some have specific requirements about who can access food assistance or how frequently they can take advantage of it.
That’s why Peacekeeper Society meets community members closer to home, bringing the food to them and providing it to anyone who needs a little extra help.
“We also want to meet our community where we’re able to, so that if that means we have to go out to White Swan, we will go out to White Swan,” Smartlowit said.
Providing that food is part of Peacekeeper Society’s mission to provide life-changing opportunities to indigenous people and to connect people with their culture and tradition. Other programs include traditional food preservation and grief recovery.
Smartlowit said they’re grateful for the support, donations and assistance provided by Northwest Harvest and hope that they’ll be able to further develop that partnership now that the new distribution center is open.
“My request to community members who might be watching this is identify your local food bank or food pantry and if you can provide foods or funds to those food banks and pantries, it’s going to help a lot of people this holiday season,” Reynolds said.
Anyone wanting to donate to Peacekeeper Society can send a check to Peacekeeper Society at PO Box 10057, Yakima, WA 98909, make an online donation here or make one over the phone by calling 509-864-1446.
Smartlowit said anyone wanting to take advantage of the help Peacekeeper Society can provide should follow them on social media. They can also contact the organization by calling or texting 509-864-1446 or emailing [email protected].
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