It’s currently estimated that more than 34 million people in the United States are afflicted by food insecurity, including one in every nine children. In 2022, over 49 million people turned to food programs for assistance, making the importance of work carried out by local food banks vital now more than ever as they nourish their communities.

Arlington Community Food Bank is especially dedicated to this cause with a mission to help end hunger in our local community at its root cause, ensuring that no one goes hungry in North Snohomish County with the help of their on-site “Market” that those in need are welcomed to come shop at, and their new and innovative “Mobile Market!”

Arlington Community Food Bank
Carla Rankin started work at Arlington Community Food Bank in March of 2019 as the first and only staff serving 80 to 120 households a week with three services each week. Photo courtesy: Arlington Community Food Bank

Arlington Community Food Bank’s Nourishing Roots Run Deep in the Snohomish Community

“Arlington Community Food Bank was established in 1981 by a small group of dedicated volunteers committed to providing emergency-only food assistance to low-income families,” began Carla Rankin, Executive Director of Arlington Community Food Bank and Vice President of Snohomish County Food Bank Coalition.

Raised in the small logging town of Darrington, Carla grew up knowing the importance of community and understands that being involved at a local level is the best way to make a difference. Perhaps this is why now, after previously working for 35 years in a for-profit career in business development and management, she finds herself right at home in her role as CEO/Executive Director, “I was and continue to be honored to get to come to work each day to better serve the community I live in,” says Carla.

And serving the community is precisely what the Arlington Community Food Bank continues to do, now in more unique and innovative ways. During its first 37 years, it slowly grew from a small room distribution to the new food bank facility at its current location on 63rd Avenue, complete with additional warehouse space, vehicles, and cold storage.

Arlington Community Food Bank
Arlington Community Food Bank is “rethinking food banking” with their on-site market that looks like a regular supermarket. Photo courtesy: Arlington Community Food Bank

Arlington Community Food Bank Offers Several Amenities to Help Community Members in Need

It was the opening of this new facility that opened up new doors for the Arlington Community Food Bank, and in 2019, the local non-profit began to make some significant changes in operations to further benefit the community, including the hiring of Carla. It started with opening a grocery-style shopping experience for customers to bring more choice and dignity. Now known simply as “The Market,” it is open for shopping by appointment on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, where anyone needing grocery assistance is welcomed weekly during their designated times to come and shop.

In addition, the food bank also offers other programs to help those facing food insecurity, including their hugely successful Meals ’til Monday Supplemental Backpack Program. This program provides two-day meal packs to every child in the Arlington School District who relies on Free & Reduced lunches. This program helps ensure these same kids have access to food during non-school days, with packs including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack items to alleviate childhood hunger during non-school days.

In addition to programs like Meals ’til Monday, home deliveries are also offered by the food bank to those unable to visit the food bank due to limited mobility and extenuating circumstances. Fire & Safety Officers also have 24/7 access to the facility so that they may provide emergency food to anyone they are temporarily re-housing and needing immediate food services. By partnering with North Snohomish County Outreach, the food bank is also able to provide shelf-stable, self-contained foods for the region’s unhoused community members during the weekly free laundry service so that those most vulnerable can access both laundry and food support in one place.

Arlington Community Food Bank
Arlington Food Bank, in partnership with Arlington High School Students, the City of Arlington, SMARTCAP and Pivotal Construction, believes no one should have to decide between keeping the lights on or feeding their children, so they bring the food to you with their Mobile Market! Photo courtesy: Arlington Community Food Bank

A Dream is Realized With the Creation of the Innovative Mobile Market

Besides all the aforementioned assistance programs offered by the Arlington Community Food Bank, its newest addition, which is being dubbed the Mobile Market, was a dream realized by Carla in her new role.

“Within the first two weeks of the job, I learned a serious issue was logistics,” she shared, stating that her first mission was to change the warehouse to a grocery store, which was easily the first thing completed. The next goal, however, was a bit more challenging as she discovered that getting groceries to certain individuals was a lot harder for some than for others.

“The number one call I would get was ‘I can’t get to the food bank.’” recalls Carla, and with home deliveries not being a thing then, she knew there had to be something they could do.

“A light bulb went off in my head. I remembered utilizing, and loving, to the visit the Bookmobile as a child in Darrington with my grandma,” she recalls.

It was this memory that sparked a dream for Carla in March of 2019. It took a year of investigating a variety of models and talking with a lot of pop-up food bank programs across the county, but she pressed forward. With a solid concept and a couple of options, she finally presented a proposal to the Board of Directors, who unanimously approved the idea of raising funds to purchase a mobile unit in February of 2021.

It took another year of research to find the specific vendor to build their unit exactly how Carla envisioned and then custom-creating the perfect vehicle to serve customers in a much broader area. Once the proper vehicle was found, the board supported the project goal, and they made a deposit and began fundraising in June of 2021.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Arlington High School Student Body, SmartCap Construction, Pivotal Construction, and the City of Arlington grant funds, we had all we needed to secure the full funding,” beamed Carla regarding the success of the process.

Arlington Community Food Bank
Opening the Mobile Market was a dream realized for Carla as it allowed the food bank to reach the masses innovatively and help those in need. Photo courtesy: Arlington Community Food Bank

Arlington Community Food Bank’s Mobile Market is Able to go the Distance for Those in Need

The impressive vehicle turned-mobile market was completed in June of 2022, a dream realized for Carla as she traveled cross-country to drive the Mobile Market home from Manitoba, Quebec.

“It still brings tears to my eyes!” shared Carla, “It’s the accomplishment I’m most proud of. I believe it makes a lasting impression, and since the introduction of the innovative and creative model allowing those not able to visit the food bank the ability to shop for themselves — well, it’s a game changer!”

And that it has been, as the Mobile Market operates on a rotating schedule, traveling as far as the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe east of Darrington, which is an 80-mile round trip before returning home to Arlington. In addition, it also visits senior living communities, adding hundreds of senior services that were in desperate need in the process.

Currently, the Mobile Market makes several monthly stops on various days, rotating out the weeks. For instance, the truck can be found at the Villas at Lakewood on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month and at Oso Fire Station on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays. During the 2nd and 4th weeks of each month, it can be found at places like Stilly Valley Center on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays or Whitehorse Park & Ride on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays. With this calculated schedule, the Mobile Market can help as many individuals as possible.

Arlington Community Food Bank
Anyone needing grocery assistance is welcome weekly at the on-site market, where they will browse and shop for groceries during their designated hour. Photo courtesy: Arlington Community Food Bank

Arlington Community Food Bank Envisions a Future Were No One Goes Hungry

With the addition of Arlington Food Bank’s on-site Market and innovative Mobile Market, the food bank has served an average of 5,400 individuals each month within the community. They have a focus on farm-fresh ingredients most months of the year and have strong partnerships already with local farms, the WSDA Feed Washington Program and the WSDA Harvest Against Hunger Program, both of which support purchasing local produce, dairy, meats, and eggs. In addition to food items, they also have diapers, pet food, and non-food items such as hygiene and cleaning products to offer individuals in need of such amenities.

Donations, of course, are always welcomed by the food bank, with in-kind non-perishable and garden-fresh produce being accepted Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until noon and Monday and Wednesday nights from 4 until 6:30 p.m. Every little bit helps, especially considering that the Arlington Community Food Bank is serving 50-73% more customers each month this year than they were last year, indicating an immense growth in food insecurity.

It is with this knowledge that Carla and her expert team of volunteers and staff look to the future, one where no person within the community goes hungry. “Together, we can achieve great things,” she says.

Arlington Community Food Bank
19118 63rd Avenue NE, Arlington

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