Pierce College joins hand-in-hand with community’s mobile food bank

Malia Adaoag / Staff Photo
Each shopper receives a certain amount of food depending on the number of people in their household.

Nourish Pierce County feeds students in need

Students and community members gather in the D lot  as a giant  truck pulls up to Pierce College Fort Steilacoom on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Some busily fill out paperwork, while others patiently wait to pick up their ration for the week.  For some, this may be one of the only ways to feed their family. Janette Jarvis, a mother of four and a social services health major at Pierce, said visiting the food truck once a week is one way to support her family; she said she also receives food stamps. 

“The more people you have to feed, the harder it is,” she said. “So [Nourish Pierce County food truck] just helps with a few extra things. Snacks go farther for kids and stuff. But it’s not such a huge struggle; every little bit helps.”

There are often choices and sacrifices that most people have to make on a day-to-day basis just to put food on the table. Much has to be given up, but Jarvis does not see stretching her budget as a burden.

 “As a family of four kids and two adults, we don’t have the extra money to spend on a lot of food. So we have to make that $100 stretch as far as possible, plus whatever we get in food stamps.” Jarvis said. 

Malia Adaoag / Staff Photo
A Nourish Pierce County Food Bank volunteer, walks alongside a shopper in guiding them throughout the truck to make sure enough food is given.

The weekly mobile food bank, which Nourish Pierce County runs, began partnering with Pierce College Puyallup and Pierce College Fort Steilacoom for the first time in February, providing students, staff and community members a chance to receive free groceries or help those in need.  

Mobile food bank manager Durk Gunderson, who drives one of the two mobile food trucks to seven different locations in a week, said he sees the same black truck parked next to the mobile food bank every week. “I know that if we aren’t here, that person might not get food, and they’re not the only one,” said Gunderson, who has helped at Nourish Pierce County for seven years and been involved with community service work for 29 years. 

Gunderson added that he feels blessed with this opportunity to serve others, and he said he also wishes others would be more vigilant and show compassion. “Every day I see people, and they have their blinders on and don’t realize there are people out there that desperately need help.”

Vasiliy Sinelnyy is the economic mobility coordinator at Pierce College. On opening day in late February, the Fort Steilacoom campus had an estimated 150 people come to pick up food, while the Puyallup campus had 50 people, Sinelnyy said. 

Depending on household size, people are eligible to receive predetermined amounts of food based on the nutrition plan developed at Washington State University, Sinelnyy said. “Food is stored in the truck at proper temperatures in serving sizes so that when someone goes through it is a quick and easy process,” he added.     

 The mobile food truck depends on volunteers to ensure the process is just that quick and easy. Kelly Gardner, administrative assistant to the dean of Library and Learning Resources at Pierce College said she has helped out at every food bank at both the Fort Steilacoom and Puyallup campuses since February.

The inspiration for Gardner to give back to her community came from helping out at church food banks as a child. It was something her mother said that really resonated with her.

“She always used to say dinner always tasted better the night after helping at the food bank,” Gardner said. “Because then those other people were eating, too.”

Gardner said she finds joy in being a small part of something that helps people get food for their families that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise. 

When you know that there are people struggling with something as small as food, it makes you think about all the things you can do to help.”

— Perla Jimenez

She added that there are regulars who come through every week, some doing better than others financially and even emotionally.

“We see a lot of people come through who are definitely down on their luck,” Gardner said. “But the best thing we can do is just be friendly and give them light and hope when they’re struggling.”

Sinelnyy, said he has been working in the position for about nine months now while pursuing a master’s degree in public policy. 

He shared that the mobile food bank is interested in recruiting new volunteers.

“We have 10 to 15 people who sign up to help out at each food bank and rotate so that five to six are helping on any given day,” Sinelnyy said. “We are always looking for more volunteers and taking anyone that wants to help out.”

Perla Jimenez, who is completing her Direct Transfer Agreement in biology at the Puyallup campus, said she has always been charitable dating back to her childhood when she would help at dog rescues. She was led to volunteer at the mobile food bank for similar reasons. 

“When you know that there are people struggling with something as small as food, it makes you think about all the things you can do to help,” Jimenez said.

 Jimenez accommodates people who come for food and helps them package what they want. She said all of her experiences interacting with those who stop by the truck have been positive.

“I would come back and help in a heartbeat even after I graduate from Pierce,” Jimenez said. 

Pierce College is not the only place where the Nourish Pierce County Food Truck delivers food. To see the full schedule and list of locations, visit https://nourishpc.org/need-food.

Looking to volunteer at the mobile food bank? 

Email Vasiliy Sinelnyy on how you can help serve others at: VSinelnyy@pierce.ctc.edu.

Mondays: Puyallup campus on from 1-3 p.m.

Tuesdays: Fort Steilacoom on from 1-3 p.m.