The Operational Emergency Center held its final distribution on Sunday, Sept. 7, this time dispersing items to other non-profits, food banks and charitable organizations with the hope that they will carry on the work that OEC will no longer be able to.
One of the largest food banks in King County, OEC provided food, clothing and other direct services to over 187,000 people last year alone.
OEC was forced to close its doors last week after 35 years due to lack of funding. The center was being faced with an enormous loan payment they could not raise the money to pay.
Dian Ferguson, former CEO of the center, said the she could not find donors willing to provide the nearly $150,000 that OEC needed to stay solvent after the loan payment for an extensive remodel project came due.
Ferguson maintains that the remodel was necessary to bring the building up to code, but after delays for the building permit and rising construction costs, among other things, the agency got in over its head. The credit crunch and mortgage crisis didn't help either.
"At the same time this was happening all our regular costs were going up, too," said Ferguson. "Our garbage bills were $1,200 a month and gas went from $150 a week to $400 a week in less than a year."
Ferguson explains that since such a large portion of their service was providing food deliveries to homebound seniors and disabled people, the cost of gas hit them incredibly hard. Chicken Soup Brigade will now assume the home delivery to OEC clients.
Ferguson said she believes that aside from the problems with the economy, many of the Center's financial troubles stem from a more pervasive problem: many donors are simply not interested in giving to food banks.
"I cannot tell you how many rejection letters I got that simply said they would not give to food banks due to the belief that distributing food is only a Band-Aid solution."
Ferguson, who has done fundraising work for the Boy's and Girl's Club, and was the director of Women's Funding Alliance, said that in her 20 years in the fundraising field she has never had the trouble raising money that she had at OEC.
"I think the public is in denial that people live in poverty and there's an enormous amount of judgment about adults who aren't self-sufficient. Our country has a really hard time with that."
Ferguson said that even though they have been trying to get the word out to their clients about the closure, people are still coming by the building, and are shocked when they hear the news.
"Hopefully our clients will find other resources in their communities, the communities will step up around these services, and people will stop being so judgmental about why others are struggling," said Ferguson.
OEC plans to sell the building to pay off its debts.