Volunteers help give Tukwila Pantry new look

The Tukwila Pantry got a makeover last month with help from volunteers.

About 20 BNSF Railway employees spent the July 26 afternoon working in the Pantry, a food bank that is housed in the lower level of Rivertown Park United Methodist Church, 3118 S. 140th St.

The Tukwila Pantry provides food and hot meals to about 400 needy families from Tukwila, SeaTac and Burien each week.

“I have been looking at how do we serve our clients with dignity and expanding on the definition of what dignity means,” said Kathy Finau, executive director of the Tukwila Pantry. “What does that mean for our volunteers, and how do they help serve with dignity and experience dignity in their role.”

The Pantry has transitioned to a self-select system, where clients pick out their own food, Finau said.

“We are trying to consolidate the campus so it is easier for the volunteers and the clients to select their food,” she said. “Before this we were serving bread and produce outside in a tent. It is very challenging for both the clients and the volunteers to do that in whatever weather we have going on.

“I have been trying to figure out a way to bring everything into one space, so it is easier for the volunteers to manage the inventory and easier for the clients to have access to it.”

The Tukwila Pantry is part of the South King County Coalition, which is composed of 12 food banks.

Through King County Public Health, Northwest Harvest and the University of Washington, the coalition applied for and received a grant to study lean management and behavioral economics.

“Lean management is looking at waste,” Finau said. “What is a waste of the volunteers’ time? What’s a waste of the clients’ time? Where do they have to wait? Where do they have periods of stop and go? And the behavioral economics side is how do we arrange things so people are making healthier options?”

As a part of the process, Finau reconfigured the Pantry’s layout.

Cabinetry in one of the rooms prevented Finau from moving things around, so removing the large cabinets was part of the solution.

“It just took up the whole room,” she said. “It was OK in the beginning because you had a crate, and people could just pick out of that crate. But that meant nothing else could happen in that space. It was just whatever canned good was in that crate.”

BNSF provided the volunteer power to make the transformation happen.

“Through their assistance we can demo those cabinets and open up the whole room,” Finau said.

Volunteers organized inventory and cleaned up the space.

“Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad reached out to United Way and said, ‘We want to do a community service project. What organization could use our assistance?’” Finau said. “Because we get funding from United Way of King County, they suggested he contact me and have a conversation.”

Clinton Watkis, a sales manager for BNSF based in Seattle, said the railway’s employees from Seattle, Bellingham, Spokane, Alabama, Texas, California and British Columbia were in Seattle for training and wanted to devote time to community service.

“When we have our annual staff meeting in Texas we work probably at 10 or 11 different sites in and around Tarrant County at community efforts just like this,” Watkis said. “We are doing it today on a smaller scale.”

It is important for BNSF employees to be part of the community, Watkis said.

“We want to make a contribution in the community,” he said. “I live in Greenwood. I realize there is a lot of need in King County. I am really appreciative that my assistant VP allowed us to do this.”

The Pantry can always use volunteers, Finau said.

“We can accommodate more work service groups without a problem,” she said. “I do have other companies that do service days. They maybe won’t be doing it to this extent, but maybe they will help crate some inventory and help us prep for the day or cleaning. We are willing, open and interested in working with other businesses.”

The Tukwila Pantry is open from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and serves a hot meal on Tuesday evenings.

For more information about the Pantry, visit tukwilapantry.org. Groups or individuals interested in volunteering can contact Finau at Director@tukwilapantry.org or 206-431-8293.

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