Submitted by Ahndrea Blue, President/CEO, Making A Difference Foundation.
Next to air and water, food is the most basic human need – even above shelter and clothing.
When people don’t have their need for food met, several things happen within the community: people, just like you and me, lose hope and dignity. Desperation sets in and there is a spike in crime where people take what they need instead of being served. Desperation to meet basic needs breeds fear, isolation, and distrust of others.
Eloise’s Cooking Pot Food Bank is in the Eastside Tacoma community simply to help people meet their food needs and do so in a dignified and respectful manner.
I started Eloise’s Cooking Pot in 2009 because two children, who did not look like me, appeared to not be eating. Their parents would not take food from me because I was African American. So, I hired someone, who did look like them, and had them purchase food to give to them. And it worked! They begin to accept the food and Eloise’s was born.
Unfortunately, NIMBYism is strong across many communities, and it is a sad thing because it doesn’t strengthen the neighborhood at all. In most cases, people who complain don’t even understand the issue or those who are trying to provide a solution. Starting the food bank, I faced that NIMBYism and continue to 13 years later. Starting the food bank was very difficult. Since its inception, I personally have been assaulted over twelve times. I can’t keep track of the number of times I have had my personal property, or the food bank property destroyed. Yet despite this, I continue to move forward in this mission.
Eloise’s has been in this current location for almost 13 years, longer than some neighbors and businesses in the area. And Eloise’s is located where it is for a reason! This neighborhood is a known food dessert, where quality, healthy food is hard to obtain in a reasonable distance.
After weathering COVID-19, the food bank continues to meet the needs of this community. However, it has come to my attention there is, once again, the brewing of tensions regarding the food bank. It appears to be coming from new businesses and neighbors. I was surprised to hear a new business owner yelling, “We are tired of the food bank dominating the neighborhood and we are going to set it straight with its clients and trucks.” Other businesses are demanding the city regulate our food bank’s hours, pallets and equipment, parking, how many employees we can have, and how we operate. Does the city regulate these things with any other business? With YOUR business? And these are businesses that came to McKinley Hill after the food bank, knowing they were starting a company, or moving it, right next to a food bank – which is also a business. A non-profit, yes, but still a business. Eloise’s is the one of the largest employers in McKinley Avenue.
Why buy, move, or start a business next to a food bank, knowing it is there, and then complain and make demands on how it operates – or demand that it be shut down?
Here are some important facts:
- Eloise’s Cooking Pot Food Bank is the largest employer on McKinley.
- We give away an average of 1 million pounds of healthy food to over 48, 000 people each month.
- We have done nothing wrong but respond to a food crisis for the people in the neighborhood and across Pierce County.
- We have stepped up to serve the community when so many other neighbors and businesses haven’t. What has your business done to help or address the problem?
- Any reasonable issue that has been brought to our attention we have resolved immediately.
- During the pandemic, once things reopened, we intentionally patronized each of your businesses. We have purchased large quantities of food and drinks regularly. And we have consistently tipped your staff $100 to help. This was intentional because we believe we are all in this together and we wanted to help.
I continue to sit in community meetings regarding this area and the majority of the people do not reflect those who live here and visit the food bank. While, according to reports, the households in the McKinley neighborhood are upper-middle income with 35% being employed in executive or management jobs, 21.1% of the children here live below the federal poverty line, which is a higher rate of childhood poverty than 68.7% of U.S. neighborhoods. (Neighborhood Scout) Also, while the racial makeup is listed as predominately white (about 60%), the majority (70%+) of people served at the food bank identify as BIPOC and all are of lower incomes levels.
Eloise’s Cooking Pot Food Bank is NOT responsible for the increase in crime rate, rents, lack of police response, limited parking, trash in the neighborhood or ally, deteriorating sidewalks and streets, nor other business’ profitability. These are all things that existed prior to the food bank opening in 2009.
Every day the food bank staff endures Karens and Kens yelling at them and blocking their path to and from the food bank, threatening bodily injury with weapons. Why? For them coming to work to make a living for the family? For them wanting to help their neighbors and community? We’ve had enough! My concern is that this aggressive and racially divided behavior has gotten to the level of being dangerous again!
As companies, we all have things we have to do. For the businesses in the area, my suggestion is working on profitability. One of the things I am very good at is profitability and business efficiency. So, I am offering each business in the neighborhood one meeting with me and my team to review your business and its needs. Maybe instead of creating an anti-food bank group, we a create a think tank with all the area businesses and bring in some experts to work on profitability and success and challenge ourselves over a one-year period to see how profitable each of us can be. This can be a win-win situation if we focus our attention in the right direction.
I also challenge the community – those who are complaining — to get move involved, learn about us and our program, volunteer, and get to know the neighbors we serve (your neighbors, too). Offer suggestions on how the ECP Food Bank can better work with your businesses and community members to solve the issues being seen (or that cause those complaining concern). The only way we will solve the problems the community faces is if we work together.
And this continued harassment of the food bank isn’t constructive, and it must stop! Regardless of what businesses and people might think, we will NOT be bullied nor harassed daily! If this anti-food bank sentiment continues, it will be a lose-lose situation for the community, for all. I am willing to meet and discuss any legitimate issues. You can reach me at 253.212.2778.