Something you can do that Santa can’t. And it works all year long

Thomas Reynolds, CEO of Northwest Harvest.
Thomas Reynolds, CEO of Northwest Harvest. Courtesy

Northwest Harvest needs your help now, and also when it’s not a holiday season.

The state’s largest hunger-relief agency now has a local native leading the charge.

Thomas Reynolds, a Stadium High School graduate who grew up in Tacoma, became CEO of the 50-year-old nonprofit this summer.

He recently spoke to The News Tribune about his work and fight for “food justice” in Washington. Answers have been edited for clarity.

Q: What would surprise people now about hunger in this state?

A: In 2008, the financial crisis hit Washington state hard and dramatically increased people at food banks. What’s surprising is demand hasn’t declined, because of growing inequality and the growing burden of unequal rent and real estate. In that situation, food is sometimes the first thing to go.

The problem has been described as 40 percent of post-production food wasted in the U.S., but I don’t think it’s that simple.

When you break it down, rural communities are disproportionally affected by food insecurity.

And 36 to 39 percent of African-American families experience food insecurity in the Puget Sound area. That is intolerable and speaks to the need to not only alleviate hunger but also to identify and and root out systemic causes of injustice.

Fundamentally there are social justice and food justice issues affecting multiple generations and an opportunity gap to address.

Q: Does it bother you that all the public’s attention seemingly is focused on donations during the holidays?

A: People need to know that the demand is fairly constant throughout the year.

Supply drops in summer when the kids are out of school. In Pierce County, 59 percent of the kids get free or reduced school lunches.

Q: What’s encouraging at this point?

A: I think that because a lot of people have done well — the stock market and real estate are up — more people recognize those who aren’t doing well, and are giving to food banks as a way to give back to community.

Q: What worries you now?

A: The GOP tax cuts are not finalized, but it’s pretty clear those are going to move forward and mean something fundamental in terms of the social safety net, in both billion-dollar reductions to things like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program and at the same time offering fewer incentives to give to nonprofits.

In Tacoma-Pierce County, 12 percent live below the poverty line. The throwaway political line to these people is “just get a job,” but people I talk to, they are working sometimes two or three jobs at a time. So it’s not for lack of trying.

Debbie Cockrell: 253-597-8364, @Debbie_Cockrell

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