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Originally published November 18, 2011 at 8:49 PM | Page modified November 19, 2011 at 12:13 PM

Food bank at Sacred Heart Church closes

A Lower Queen Anne food bank that has long provided a hot breakfast, sack lunches and groceries to the neighborhood's neediest served its...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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St. Vincent de Paul at Sacred Heart: 206-283-2104

quotes I think it very sad when a food bank orgainization such as this has to close it's doors... Read more
quotes The article should include an address where we can donate money to keep the program going. Read more
quotes A lot of non-Christian judging going on here. But, a 40-hour a week volunteer... Read more

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A Lower Queen Anne food bank that has long provided a hot breakfast, sack lunches and groceries to the neighborhood's neediest served its last meals on Friday because funding to run the $2,500 per month program ran out.

Each morning during the workweek, people have congregated in the parking lot of Sacred Heart, a Catholic church steps from Seattle Center. In the chilly, quiet parking lot last week, men who trudged in from homeless encampments and low-income housing were greeted with a ham-and-cheese or chicken-and-tomato sandwich and left with news that the program was in its final days.

"We're still hoping for miracles," volunteer Michele Ferguson told people last week. "You never know."

But that miracle never came through, and at 11:30 a.m. Friday the Sacred Heart Food & Assistance Program closed, said Elise Hale-Case, who runs it.

"We had record numbers at the food bank and we pretty much cleaned the place out," Hale-Case said Friday.

Kevin Thompson, who is a parishioner at Sacred Heart and who runs the St. Vincent de Paul branch at the church, said that he just doesn't understand why they couldn't generate donations to pay for Hale-Case's position.

"We're gravely disappointed and angry. We needed just a little more assistance," Thompson said.

For nearly 30 years a food bank has operated at Sacred Heart, said Jim McFarland, spokesman for St. Vincent de Paul Seattle/King County. The food program is overseen by the St. Vincent de Paul branch at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Parish.

For the last five years the program has received a small amount of funding from St. Vincent de Paul to pay for one employee to oversee the volunteers who prepare the sack lunches, the hot meals and run the small food bank.

But that funding was only intended to be temporary, until a full-time volunteer could be found, McFarland said. With the focus of St. Vincent de Paul Seattle/King County directed on helping a soaring number of people who are facing eviction from their homes, the funding to pay for an employee at the Sacred Heart program has been eliminated.

"We're not a food operation; it was a bit out of our mission," McFarland said. "While we were happy to help these folks, we have got to put our money where people need help."

The Sacred Heart food program had served 80 to 150 sack lunches from 8:30-11 a.m. daily, Hale-Case said. A food bank on site also provided groceries to as many as 40 families each week.

Hale-Case, the program's one paid employee, said the program hasn't had any luck finding a volunteer to take her 40-hour-per-week job. She said that if the food program had $2,500 per month she could keep her job and the program going.

"What feels hard about this is that food-wise we have more than enough and there is an urgent need. The majority of the people we're serving are sleeping outside," she said.

On Thursday morning, Hale-Case and her team of volunteers were handing out hefty servings of hot soup and "double meat" sandwiches as a way to use up inventory.

Shawn Wilson, a 45-year-old who is disabled, said that the Sacred Heart program has not only put food in his stomach, but staff there has also helped him find clothes and furniture for his low-income apartment. He said he's been visiting the church program every Friday for years.

"It's convenient and it's safe because there aren't the drugs and drinking like you have in other places," Wilson said. "Now we'll have to adjust and go somewhere else."

Standing in the narrow hallway, just steps from boxes of donations from Cupcake Royale, Starbucks and local grocery stores, food-bank client Melvin Walker wondered where he would go to get groceries for his nearby low-income apartment.

"It's going to be a horrible situation when this food bank goes down the drain," said Walker, a 58-year-old disabled bus driver. "It's a time when people need these types of services; there's no jobs and social services are depleted."

Staff at Seattle's Union Gospel Mission said they are looking into doing what they can to help people in need in the Lower Queen Anne community.

Jeff Lilley, president of Union Gospel Mission, said that Union Gospel staff, who served more than 500,000 meals last year, will contact churches on Queen Anne to see what can be done to help. The Union Gospel Mission partners with churches and other community organizations across Seattle, he said.

"Every time we lose a feeding partner like this it's a big one. People are desperately hungry," Lilley said. "This is a common story; we're seeing it more and more."

Joe Gruber, who heads the University District Food Bank, and Nancy McKinney, who heads the Ballard Food Bank, said they expect a small spike of clients from the Sacred Heart closure. Gruber said that a more noticeable increase will likely be seen by food programs in Belltown and neighborhoods closer to Queen Anne.

"We certainly all have rough goes of it and we talk about ways to manage the limited cash and food donations we receive," Gruber said. "It's a challenge."

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

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