In the fall of 2021 Ryan Hurley, President of Hurley Development in Vancouver, Washington was thinking about how the regional commercial real estate development company could give back and impact their region. And he didn’t have to look much further than right around the corner from their downtown Vancouver, Washington offices.
“Our company has been supporting FISH Vancouver, a local food pantry, for many years. They make a huge impact in our community, feeding literally 10’s of thousands of people. Many of our employees take time out of their workday once or twice a month to help pack food and move supplies around…because we want to bring life to our local community and make it a better place.”
Ryan reached out to James Fitzgerald, Executive Director of FISH Vancouver, and asked, “What are your hopes for the future? Do you and the team at FISH Vancouver have a dream that we can help make reality?”
James thought about what they had experienced during the pandemic and how it had changed the lives of their clientele and affected the work they were doing. During the COVID-19 shutdown, many people were left hungry and unable to access food. What was once a difficult but achievable goal of finding a ride or spending hours on public transportation with children by their side, became almost impossible with public transportation closed down and rides much more difficult to find. One way that FISH staff and volunteers responded during this time was by scheduling temporary “food drop” locations…they found organizations willing to open up their parking lots to allow FISH to deliver groceries from their pantry and distribute them directly to neighborhoods in need.
After looking at the data of the individuals and families served by the temporary delivery program, James and the team realized this was a revolutionary way for them to reach around the county and impact people who had never been to FISH Vancouver before. The only problem was how to make it happen. “We were using trucks and vans to take boxes of food to temporary delivery locations, but it wasn’t sustainable. We knew we needed a mobile food pantry but didn’t have the funding in place to make that happen. And I thought, you know what…what would it take to make this happen?”
James shared the idea with Ryan Hurley. Hurley, who had already been looking into ways to give back to the community was keen to help FISH Vancouver with setting up its new mobile food pantry. The pandemic had isolated communities and being able to access them was critical. Given the troubles FISH was facing in achieving its objective, it was evident that a mobile pantry was the only way forward. The mobile pantry needed the right equipment and refrigeration so that food could be stored and transported to distant areas safely.
For this reason, the project was quite capital-intensive but Hurley spared no expense in making the mobile food pantry a reality. The biggest contribution came from Hurley Development, as a generous $60,000. In addition to contributing, Hurley reached out to his business partners, LSW Architects, Specialty Graphic Solutions, and Riff Creative. LSW Architects contributed a further $6,000 covering the operational costs. Riff Creative and Specialty Graphic Solutions volunteered to design the mobile food pantry. Hurley, a regular church-goer, also got the Crossroads Community Church to contribute $15,000 to the cause. This was a great example of the community coming together to find a solution to a problem and Hurley coordinated the entire response.
“We’re embarking on a new adventure, and we’re going to reach beyond the walls that we have here,” said Fitzgerald.
The new pantry was unveiled at a special event. It included a ribbon-cutting ceremony inaugurating the pantry. The pantry has been equipped with storage space, freezers, refrigerators, and shelves. FISH plans on using the pantry to visit places where there are people from low-income groups, and also health centers and senior centers. “If we can help by showing up with some food at some of the safer homeless areas, the ones that are more sanctioned, that will be an area that we will focus on, as well,” said Fitzgerald.
The pantry is going to make it much easier for FISH Vancouver to access people who were previously unable to reach their food banks because of health or transportation issues. The mobile pantry is a pilot program, and if FISH is successful, they will be keen on expanding this program further to reach even more communities and people.
In January 2022, the organization had been able to provide food to 1,200 clients. By the end of May, the numbers increased to 1,900 and are not showing signs of slowing down. As long as FISH Vancouver is enjoying community support from conscientious businesses like Hurley Development, they will continue to meet their targets.