Food insecurity in King County remains high: how to help and get food assistance

For thousands of our King County neighbors, having enough food to feed themselves and their families is a worry. The number of people seeking food assistance increased over the last year, according to a report by Public Health. This increase is happening while food costs are higher than ever before. 

With the end of COVID-related food assistance funding, like SNAP Emergency Allotments, King County’s emergency food system is under strain. In October 2022, Public Health heard from over 80 food assistance providers that food donations are down, food costs are high, and the number of people seeking assistance is increasing.

 “We haven’t had to have limits with most of our dry goods for the majority of 2021 and much of 2022. That’s changed dramatically during the last couple of weeks,” noted one food bank director we heard from. “The absolute growth in the quantity of food that folks are taking is phenomenal. We haven’t seen anything like that since COVID began. It is super challenging to have this balance of increased need and decreased inventory available.”

Another shared, “Food is expensive. Food inflation is high and [organizations are] unable to accommodate for the size of clients that we’re having now.”

What can you do to help

Nearly all the food assistance providers Public Health heard from said they need additional food, volunteers, and equipment.  You can help by volunteering, donating nutritious foods, and giving money to your community food bank and meal program. Food programs require long-term volunteers and drivers as they have not yet recovered the number of volunteers that they had pre-pandemic. You can find your local food bank or meal program on this list and map of food resources updated twice a year by the City of Seattle. 

How to get food assistance

If you don’t have money to purchase enough food, the following resources can help:

  • Basic Food/SNAP: King County’s Access and Outreach Team can help you apply and answer questions about Washington State’s Basic Food program. Call the Community Health Access Program (CHAP): at 1-800-756-5437. 
  • SNAP Market Match and SNAP Produce Match: You can stretch Basic Food benefits by purchasing fresh vegetables and fruit at participating farmers markets. Visit SNAP Market Match, email, or call 360- 236-3148. Also available is SNAP Produce Match, a program where shoppers who use Basic Food benefits can stretch their food budget to buy more fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores and online. Visit the website at SNAP Produce Match, email, or call 360-236-3148.
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program: The WIC program provides families with healthy food, nutrition counseling, and breastfeeding support. You may be eligible for WIC if you are pregnant or postpartum, have an infant, or child under age 5. To learn more, see Public Health WIC Services, or call 206-263-9300.
  • Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program: You can find nutrition resources for older adults, including senior congregate meal locations and information about applying for an $80 e-benefit card to purchase fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets here: Applications open on April 10, 2023.  You can also call Community Living Connections at 206-962-8467 or (toll-free) 1-844-348-5464.
  • School Meals and Summer EBT: Families can apply for free or reduced-price school meals for their children at any time during the school year by applying directly through their school or school district. School children who receive free or reduced-price school meals qualify for up to a $120 e-benefit card to purchase food during the summer months. 
  • Seattle Fresh Bucks: Eligible Seattle residents with household income below 80% area median income can enroll in the Fresh Bucks program to receive $40 in vouchers a month by mail. The vouchers, allow participants to buy any qualifying fruit and vegetable at any participating retailer including farmers markets, Seattle Safeways, and participating Seattle neighborhood grocers and farm stands. See Seattle Fresh Bucks or call 206-684-2489 for more information.
  • Food Banks and Meal Programs: Many food banks now offer home delivery services and other conveniences like online ordering and curbside pick-up. Before going to your local food bank or meal program, call ahead to confirm their hours and to make an appointment, if necessary. Find your closest food bank or meal program by visiting this list and map of food resources.

Originally posted 4/9/2023