A Hidden Need

Even in affluent communities like Issaquah, there are many people in need of support. The Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank strives to provide that support to anyone who might need it, stigma-free.

The Issaquah Food and Clothing bank has served Eastside families in need since 1971. The goal of the organization has always been to help people maintain dignity as they reach out for much-needed help. 

Development director Bonnie DeCaro-Monahan said that one of the barriers that the food bank faces is a general misconception that there is not a lot of need in the community. 

“People tend to think that need only looks like someone standing on the street corner with a sign,” she said. “The needs we address are often very hidden and out of sight, which leads people to believe there aren’t needs in East King County.” 

DeCaro-Monahan explained that Issaquah, though affluent, has an extremely high cost of living, which puts huge financial strains on the average person. They might not be anywhere near the $12,490 poverty line, she said, but they may have a hard time making ends meet nevertheless. 

“People in our region could make $60,000 a year for the family, but because the cost of living is so high, they could easily have a need for our services,” DeCaro-Monahan said. “If they don’t have some kind of backup or support system, any unexpected expenses — like someone getting sick or losing a job — could be devastating.”

Data show that 16 percent of the population in Issaquah — 18,500 — live at or below 60 percent of the area median income. One in five renters or homeowners in the city spend more than 50 percent of their household income on housing.

Last year, the food bank served 2,876 people in need. While every person who can be helped is a win, DeCaro-Monahan said, there remain more than 15,000 people in the area with a potential need who are not taking advantage of the food bank’s resources. 

To try to encourage more of these people to get help without feeling ashamed of needing to do so — and without questioning whether they deserve it — the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank doesn’t have income requirements. 

“We don’t feel like people should have to prove that they’re hungry,” DeCaro-Monahan said. “If they say they need food, they need food and we believe them. And if they’re having to ask, they’re already in a really hard place. It doesn’t make sense that we would make that more difficult.”

Since 2013, one of the organization’s most impactful efforts has been the Summer Lunch program, which provides weekly lunches and snacks to children in need when school is not in session.

“There are 1,663 children in the Issaquah school district who receive free or reduced-priced lunches, but that’s only when school is in session,” DeCaro-Monahan said. “Over the summer, it’s a huge addition to their family’s food budget to have (their) children eating at home. The idea is to keep that family from having that additional strain on their food budget.” 

Kritsonis & Lindor of Windermere Real Estate help fundraise for the program, then put on the free Lake Sammamish Fireworks Show on the Fourth of July as a celebration. DeCaro-Monahan said that these efforts provide a huge source of funding for the program. 

And though DeCaro-Monahan wants to further develop the programming provided by the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, she’s proud of the massive collective effort that goes into making it as successful as it is now. 

“We are so community driven: We relied on about 900 volunteers in 2018 — more than 22,000 hours of their time — to make all of our day-to-day operations and programs happen,” she said. “People drop off their used items and that’s how our clothing bank is filled every single day. It’s really beautiful to see how it works collectively in that way.” 


What to Donate

Food

Canned tuna/chicken/fish

Peanut butter and jelly 

Canned pasta meals

Healthy soups

Instant oatmeal packs

Clothing/personal care

Diapers sizes 4-6

Toiletries

Camping equipment/outdoor gear

Cleaning products 

Lightly used blankets/bedding

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is a staff writer for 425 magazine, who graduated from the University of Puget Sound with a double degree in English and French. She likes podcasts, tiny cacti, and Margaret Atwood, and can never say no to a French fry.
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