About half of Orcas residents qualify for food assistance

by Rick Rhoads

Orcas Island Food Bank

In response to the pandemic, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) — a federal program that provides food to low-income Americans at no cost — raised its maximum income limit from 185% of the federal poverty level to 400%. The resulting expanded access to the Orcas Island Food Bank has had a profound effect on Islanders’ lives. As one Food Bank customer put it, “You enable me and my kids to eat well and still pay our bills. It’s beautiful … sometimes I cry.”

Data in a recent report by the San Juan County Economic Development Council suggests that about half of Orcas Island residents have incomes below 400% of the poverty level, thereby qualifying to receive free food at the Orcas Island Food Bank (OIFB). The table shows the maximum income based on the number of persons in a household.


At the OIFB, we estimate that about 1,300 Orcas households with 2,600 individuals meet the TEFAP income requirements. About four times as many people come to our food bank each week compared with the “before times,” and we have increased our food distribution hours from 2.5 per week to 16.5. Nevertheless, we believe that fewer than half of the island residents who qualify take advantage of our services. The number of customers keeps rising, though, as word spreads about the availability of fresh produce and protein, much of it locally grown or raised, and about our work to offer culturally relevant foods to customers of all ages, ethnicities, and dietary needs. Accordingly, we keep working to strengthen our staff, our volunteer force, our storage capacity, our equipment, and our relationships with other key players in guaranteeing our food supply, even during pandemic-related distribution disruptions.

The goal of TEFAP, which is run by individual states, is to ensure that no one lacks proper nutrition. There is no citizenship or legal residency requirement. On the first visit, customers are asked to register with their name and address and to self-declare that they meet the income qualification. No proof is required, nor is a Social Security number requested. It’s the honor system. No paperwork. Even a customer who prefers not to register receives food.

Get more information at www.orcasislandfoodbank.org, or look for Orcas Island Food Bank on Facebook. It is located at 176 Madrona Street, Eastsound, next to the Community Church. Food distribution hours: Monday, 3-6:30 pm; Tuesday and Friday, noon to 6:30 pm.