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Originally published Friday, October 5, 2012 at 9:01 PM

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Hunger-relief group considers expansion at Nickelsville location

Food Lifeline, which provides food to about 300 food banks and meal programs in Western Washington, has talked with area elected officials about buying property and building a new warehouse.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The hunger-relief organization Food Lifeline wants to expand its warehouse and packaging operations to a bigger site in anticipation of more years of hard times for people in the Puget Sound region.

The organization, which provides food to about 300 food banks and meal programs in Western Washington, has talked with city and state elected officials about buying property and building a new warehouse.

But they haven't talked yet to the current occupants of the city-owned property they've identified as a potential site for their expanded operations: the tent encampment Nickelsville.

"We're sensitive to their situation. They're concerned about shelter; we're concerned about relieving hunger. We believe there are solutions to both," said Linda Nageotte, president and CEO of Food Lifeline.

Nickelsville residents said they weren't aware of Food Lifeline's interest in their site until informed this week by city officials. They've been at the West Marginal Way location for more than a year, despite complaints from neighbors, and in the face of a city standoff over whether to provide a permanent location for a tent encampment at all.

"Besides hearing rumors, we don't know what Food Lifeline is thinking or doing," Nickelsville residents said in a letter to the organization written Thursday. "Nickelsville is ready and willing to move from this property. What is first needed is some place to go."

The city Department of Transportation owns almost 4 acres near West Marginal Way Southwest and Southwest Michigan Street. The state Department of Transportation owns two adjoining parcels of about 3 acres. A private party owns an additional half acre at the site. The total assessed value is about $5.5 million.

The city considered the land for a new municipal jail, but an agreement reached with King County last year allowed city inmates to be held at the county jail through 2030.

Mayor Mike McGinn has directed the Facilities and Administrative Services department to evaluate Food Lifeline's proposal, but he also asked the department to consider whether the city itself can use the land, a spokesman said.

The city of Seattle is a generous supporter of Food Lifeline and the city's food banks. The city has contributed $613,000 to Food Lifeline this year for food distribution and bulk-food purchasing. It also funds 17 of Seattle's 28 food banks, providing $916,600 this year.

Food Lifeline has seen a 50 percent jump in business since the start of the recession in 2008, and officials estimate they will outgrow their current Sodo warehouse within the next two years.

The agency's operations are split between the warehouse and a food-repacking facility in Shoreline. CEO Nageotte estimates Food Lifeline spends $50,000 a year driving between the two facilities, money the organization would rather spend on food.

Nageotte also envisions the agency doing more to divert the estimated 40 percent of food now sent to landfills so it can feed more hungry people.

"We're looking to have one much, much larger facility," she said.

She said Food Lifeline is in the early stages of a campaign to raise $20 million from individual, corporate and foundation donors to buy land and build a new warehouse.

Times researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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