Viking Avenue in Poulsbo was desolate, a thoroughfare of empty businesses and closed auto lots. But to Mary Nader and others with North Kitsap Fishline, it was the perfect place to open a food bank.
Nader, Fishline’s executive director, said the nonprofit had spent five years looking for a new place. As North Kitsap’s largest food bank,
the organization had outgrown its 400-square-foot building. Each building officials visited didn’t work, she said, and they decided that building a new space was cost-prohibitive.
Then Fishline officials went to Viking Avenue and entered the building once occupied by Poulsbo RV. The space was 1,200 square feet. It was perfect, Nader said.
Fishline opened in its new home on May 6.
The nonprofit provides food services to 120 families a day, including a weekend meal program for low-income children, grocery delivery for homebound clients and its food bank. It also offers general rental assistance, emergency housing and safe vehicle parking for up to five cars for women living in their vehicles. All services are free.
The new space means clients who visit the building will find parking, which the old space lacked, and privacy when they stock up on items from the self-serve food market, like fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy items and staples such as peanut butter and canned tuna.
“The experience for clients is imminently better,” she said.
At Fishline, everyone who enters the food market gets a food budget, based upon where the person lives: a person who lives within the market’s core service area can spend $25 a week, with an additional $5 for each family member; people outside the service area can spend $10 a week.
Once budgets are set, clients are allotted “fish bucks,” an in-house currency they use to get their weekly foodstuffs. Nader said the experience is reminiscent of shopping in a grocery store, where people get to decide what to get for their family instead of receiving a bag of items that have already been chosen.
“It feels normal,” she said.
What may not be normal is the self-serve food market model. Nader said that while Fishline doesn’t consider itself any different from other food banks, she sees it shifting into a community market that’s created “a blurred line” about what a food bank can be.
Even though Fishline has been in its new digs for less than a month, she said there’s already been an uptick in market visitors. The increase continues a trend: In the past five years, the number of clients has doubled to roughly 2,000 unique visitors a month.
“For everyone that leaves, we have another one that comes. And then some,” she said.
Fishline bought the space for $900,000 and has a five-year mortgage, she said. The nonprofit’s annual budget comes from a combination of private donations and foundation grants, and Nader said Fishline hopes to pay off the mortgage through capital campaigns and maybe even human service dollars from the state legislature.
Paying off the mortgage in five years, before balloon payments would kick in is important, she said. Fishline owned its last building, which meant it could devote 96 percent of the money it brought in to serving the people. If the new space on Viking Avenue gets paid off, more of the organization’s budget can be funneled into programs.
Nader said she believes it will happen, since the move was a positive step toward helping more people in the community.
“We thought it was a good idea to bring some beauty and goodwill to this area of town,” she said.