Volunteers help clients bag their food in ACRS’s new food bank location, taken on March 4, 2022. Photo by Marian Mohamed.

After operating from a mobile trailer under the freeway on S. King Street for 20 years and from a temporary location during the two years of the pandemic, Asian Counseling and Referral Service food bank has a new home in the International District.

Three blocks away from their previous location, the new area in the Tsue Chong Building on S. Weller Street offers ACRS clients the in-person opportunity to pick out exactly what they need. Once clients check in and step into the building, volunteers greet them and assist them in accessing an assortment of culturally appropriate and other food supplies.

Locally owned food suppliers, local businesses and cash donations fill the food bank with fresh vegetables, rice, tofu, canned goods, noodles, meat and seafood.

Twenty six percent of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Hawaiian households in Washington state face food insecurity, according to a research study by the University of Washington, Washington State University and Tacoma Community College. ACRS is especially mindful of providing culturally relevant food to their clients of Asian descent, according to G De Castro, director of aging and adult services and the ACRS food bank.

“The food bank really started because at the time it was founded, there really weren’t any options to find the kind of ingredients they are familiar with,” said De Castro.

When the pandemic made operating in person too risky, ACRS closed their previous location and established a delivery service that reached 2,300 households throughout Seattle. ACRS partnered with King County Metro access buses to make those deliveries possible. Volunteers who delivered groceries during the pandemic have continued the tradition of leaving behind a thoughtful card message in a client’s grocery bag at the in-person location.

“Clients really appreciate it and it’s a nice touch to kind of connect,” said Nate Braum, ACRS volunteer manager.

The new establishment is the next step for volunteers and clients to interact beyond a message written in a card. Theresa Li’s first time as a volunteer began when the new location first opened its doors. Despite only volunteering for the past month, she’s already bonded with volunteers, staff and clients alike, she said.

“It has been very rewarding to volunteer with the recognition that we are lifting others to feel the same,” said Li.

On the food bank’s opening day, Li helped bag 100 pounds of rice into family portions. She appreciated being surrounded by people of diverse backgrounds with a similar urge to help others, she said.

ACRS’s decision to move to a new location after 20 years was intended to provide a permanent and safe location for clients to have an in-person shopping experience, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the maintenance of the mobile trailer, said De Castro. The mobile trailer has been sold, and the land it’s sitting on will be returned to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The previous food bank location that ACRS operated for 20 years currently waits to be moved. Photo by Marian Mohamed.

The newly acquired space is a clear improvement from the previous 600-square-foot mobile trailer, said De Castro. While working from the mobile trailer before the pandemic, ACRS would obtain the food on a Tuesday and give the food out to clients by Wednesday to prevent food from going bad, according to Liza Javier, ACRS communication manager. Storing food at the new location has become much easier with two large refrigerators and storage space of 5,500 square feet.

“It’s really great to have another local agency utilize it [the new location],” said Monisha Singh, executive director of the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area and a board member of ACRS. “And it’ll be a greater access for the services to their clients where they are.”

The outside of the new building is currently in rough shape, covered with graffiti, and boarded up windows, but ACRS is working with the building’s landlord to improve its appearance, according to De Castro.

Since opening on February 11, 2022, the food bank has served about 250 clients, many of them senior citizens. The food bank is open from 10 AM to 1 PM every Friday.

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