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Food Banks Struggle to Keep Gluten-Free Items in Stock

This photo shows a van from the Beacon Avenue Food Bank in 10/10/2011 - With the economy on the rocks and the holiday season upon us, many food banks are struggling to keep gluten-free items on their shelves.

Since more and more families are relying on food banks for assistance, that means more and more people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance may not be getting the food they need.

Responding to this situation last year, Seattle resident Lisa Garza, who runs the blog Gluten Free Foodies, launched a "Gluten-Free Food Drive Challenge" to collect gluten-free donations for area food banks. The ongoing campaign has attracted support from Bob's Red Mill and Zing Bar.

Last May, Garza urged the Seattle Food Committee, a coalition of 27 local food banks, to create dedicated space in their pantries for gluten-free foods. Committee member Joe Gruber, director of the University District Food Bank, says Garza's suggestion "made us more mindful," but doesn't foresee instituting it anytime soon. In fact, none of the city's food banks has yet found room for a gluten-free section: According to Gruber, cost and space limitations have severely hampered their abilities to regularly stock gluten-free food.

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"To offer any form of carved-out space is a challenge," says Gruber, whose 800-square-foot food bank distributes about 45,000 pounds of food per week. "We try to identify gluten-free goods, but they will still end up with other pastas, grains, and cereals."

Gruber says the University District Food Bank depends on targeted programs like Garza's to support the wide variety of diets among its customers.

Seattle Food Committee staffer Alison Miller says most food banks don't have too much gluten-free food to sort. High prices for gluten-free goods means that food-banks rarely have funds to buy and stock gluten-free items. Than means banks rely on donations for to keep gluten-free food on their shelves. That means that offerings can be slim, and disappear quickly.

Still Garza presses on. "I continue to ask for donations to remind people that the need is greater and greater," she says, adding that "I don't want people to suffer the way I suffered."

Please consider making a donation of gluten-free food to your local food bank. welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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5 Responses:

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said this on
10 Oct 2011 2:05:02 AM PST
My daughter tried to get the food bank in our small Western Washington town to identify who they served that needed allergen-free foods, focusing on gluten and dairy. They refused to identify or supply those foods at all. She even saw gluten-fee flour and pasta that had been donated go into random food boxes. Such a waste to give someone who doesn't need it gluten-free pasta and give a celiac regular pasta they can't use. She gave up and is now going to work with the food bank in the town she is going to college in Central Washington. We have read on their website that they actually understand the concept of special food requirements. She is excited to get to gather and provide donations of gluten and dairy-fee foods for the holidays there.

Lisa Garza
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said this on
11 Oct 2011 10:20:15 AM PST
Michelle, thank you for your resposne and info about your daughter. I would love for her to post more here about what she learns about the Central WA FB.
I hear it all the time, no space etc. I keep plugging away at it when I can to help teach others that specialty foods are needed for everyone - Allergen Free - Sugar Free- Dairy Free -Gluten Free - there are special dietary needs and it is all very expensive.
Thanks Adam for the spotlight on this! Lisa

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said this on
17 Oct 2011 11:53:54 PM PST
Keep up the good work, Lisa. I go to a food bank in Kirkland and I find the more I talk about needing gluten-free products, the more they seem to appear on the shelves. Comments such as, "Do you see any gluten-free pasta?" as they are stocking the shelves raises awareness; they are always apologetic when there is nothing, but sometimes they will hunt things down for me! Thanks so much for spreading the word.

Cheryl Hodgins
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said this on
15 Nov 2011 10:27:32 AM PST
I recently had to use the local food bank and I am new at being gluten free and was disappointed there was no area of special diet foods. So I talked to the director who I have known since she was my high school teacher and she has given a space for a gluten free section if I could help her staff become knowledgeable. She has arranged just a small section for now but is going to give me a larger area if I can get this up and running. I am so happy I get a section just for people like me!! I am excited..but now what do I do..where do I start? If anyone can help me I am up for any help I can get to get this project up and running.


Ellen Meeks
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said this on
23 Jan 2012 8:12:29 AM PST
Cheryl - I just recently delivered my first GF donation to our local food cupboard. It is a very small place but they are making an area for the food behind the counter so that it won't be picked up by the non GF customers. I approached the manager of our local grocery store (Price Chopper) and asked if I could select GF foods and purchase at cost for the cupboard. He said that wouldn't work but he was willing to offer a $25 gift certificate every other month with a dated letter for each gift card. I added $ to this as this is our way of donating. Secondly, I plan to order products such as Udi bagels and breads by the case at another store and will given a 15% discount. Part of this order will stay with us and part will be donated to the cupboard. I have 3 family members on GF diet. I am in good communication with the director of the Cupboard and plan to touch base before shopping to determine needs/requests. I'm quite certain that when it becomes known that GF products are available, we may see others asking for it.

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