Since 1985, Share’s Hot Meals Program has served daily free meals to Clark County’s low-income community members and people experiencing homelessness. Operated out of our founding shelter, Share House, staff and volunteers prepare and distribute three meals on weekdays and two meals on weekends. Share’s food service coordinator orders between 900 and 1,800 pounds of food each week from the Clark County Food Bank, which enables Share to purchase staple ingredients at a reduced rate by the pound, including eggs for morning breakfasts and lunch meat for daily sack lunches.
Prior to the pandemic, Feeding America reported that 13.2% of Clark County residents (58,670 individuals) are food insecure, or have inconsistent access to enough food to live an active, healthy life. Many households experiencing food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and rely heavily on local hunger relief programs for support, as with rental costs rising faster than employment wages in recent years, increasingly more individuals and families in Clark County struggle to afford their housing and other expenses.
The Hot Meals Program serves all residents at Share House in addition to any low-income community members in need of a meal. Apart from providing refuge for up to 30 single men, Share House also houses up to 28 individuals in our two-year Transitional Housing program and accommodates as many as 30 more on mats in the dining room during winter overflow. To prevent food waste, excess meals are shared with clients at Share’s family shelters, clients at our Women’s Housing and Transition shelter, and with permanent supportive housing clients. Share also facilitates visits from partner organizations during meal times, including medical attention from the Free Clinic of Southwest Washington.
As the impacts of the pandemic continue to unfold, the number of meals distributed by the program have more than doubled over the past six months, climbing from 3,758 in February to 8,233 in July. To comply with social distancing guidelines, the Share House dining room has been closed since mid-March and daily breakfasts, lunches, and dinners have been distributed as brown-bag meals ‘to-go.’ Share staff also deliver to residents who are unable to pick up meals due to health concerns. Volunteers are vital to the Hot Meals Program, and though the overall number of volunteers has decreased since the pandemic, we have been fortunate to host new volunteers that have stepped up to prepare and serve meals in place of our elderly volunteers who have not been able to participate.
Despite the many challenges of this year, Share has successfully adapted its programming to meet the increased demand for meals to address our community’s sharp rise in food insecurity.