Nestled in a quiet corner of Hoquiam not far from the river of the same name, volunteers and staff alike work diligently at the 28,000 square-foot Coastal Harvest warehouse. Just a short drive away for most Harborites, one might assume that the whereabouts of this place would be well known but that is not quite the case.

grays harbor community hospital“We’ve been working hard to rebrand Coastal Harvest because many people don’t even know we’re here,” says Angela Burton, executive director. That hard work hasn’t gone completely unnoticed. Coastal Harvest was recently recognized as the 2017 Non-profit of the Year by Greater Grays Harbor Inc.

The facility is remarkably clean and well organized. Food isn’t the only thing here, either. Necessities such as disposable plates, toiletries, hygiene products, and pet food line the shelves as well. Meats, frozen fruits and vegetables, desserts, and even breakfast sandwiches occupy the 3,000 square-foot freezer. Fresh produce and dairy products are held in a separate cooler. These foods are all packed neatly into boxes and loaded onto trucks where they will be distributed to food banks around the region.

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The Coastal harvest staff with the 2017 Non-Profit of the Year plaque. Photo credit: Coastal Harvest

Since the beginning of her tenure one year ago, Burton has revamped many of the core operations of the non-profit organization and has introduced many new programs. Coastal harvest recently transitioned to a paperless system that improves efficiency, accuracy, and communication with partner programs. This was all done without having to develop expensive custom software.

This year, Coastal Harvest has already delivered approximately two million pounds of food to over 600,000 people through 52 partner programs across seven counties in Southwest Washington. This includes the counties of Grays Harbor, Pacific, Mason, Jefferson, Thurston, Lewis, and Wahkiakum. In remote, under-served areas such as Pacific Beach and Taholah, residents are served by Coastal Harvest’s own Mobile Food Bank.

Food banks and distributors have long struggled with managing food waste, which is what makes the recent changes at Coastal Harvest particularly innovative. “We just purchased three acres of land behind the warehouse where we will build greenhouses, start a fruit orchard, and plant a vegetable garden,” says Burton. She also plans to create a compost area where food waste can be recycled. The goal is to source more produce locally, effectively reducing the need to transport and store these items while minimizing the chance of spoilage before delivery.

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The Rayonier volunteer group worked hard to repack corn for food boxes. Photo credit: Angela Burton

Coastal Harvest has seen a 16 percent increase in food delivered and an astonishing 22 percent increase in fresh produce this year. In August alone, the organization delivered 92,000 pounds of fresh produce. “We want to make sure that the food we deliver satisfies nutritional requirements too,” says Burton. This explains her intense focus on providing fresh produce, challenging the all too common preconception that healthy food cannot be found at food banks.

In June, Coastal Harvest started a program with Stafford Creek Corrections Center that gives inmates an opportunity to work in a one acre garden. Much of the produce grown here benefits local food banks and based on recent feedback, this is an arrangement that makes everyone happy. “Some of the inmates have expressed gratitude for being given a chance to give after spending much of their lives taking,” says Burton. Many inmates are also participating in various fundraisers and just for fun, they even have competitions to see who can grow the most. Coastal Harvest sends a truck to the facility once a week to pick up fresh produce.

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Boxes like this one contain everything a family needs to properly celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. Photo credit: Angela Burton

Within the community that Coastal Harvest serves, six out of seven counties are in the state’s top ten for highest unemployment rate. Nearly one in five people here struggle with food insecurity. That figure includes children, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, and the homeless. The team at Coastal Harvest and their volunteers work hard year-round to alleviate this problem but special attention is given during the holiday season.

Burton has started a campaign called Holiday Harvest to collect funds for holiday meals. Every family will receive a whole chicken for Thanksgiving and ham for Christmas. “This is the first year that we’ve been able to provide holiday proteins for both Thanksgiving and Christmas and our goal is to include Easter as well,” says Burton. Side dishes were paid for by proceeds from the Great Pumpkin Weekend and Carving Competition in Seabrook.

Coastal Harvest receives funding from government programs, grants, and rental income, but without donations and help from volunteers, the good works they do in the community would not be possible.   If you would like to donate, volunteer, or find out more about food banks in your area, you can visit the Coastal Harvest website or call 360-532-6315. If you shop on Amazon, consider using Amazon Smile for your next purchase. You can also follow Coastal harvest on their Facebook page to get the latest updates on upcoming events.

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