Fire badly damages Washington state food bank

SPANAWAY, Wash. (AP) — A food bank that serves roughly 1,100 people in Pierce County, Washington was damaged in a fire Friday, and officials don't yet know how much food, if any, can be saved.

Families in need of food showed up throughout the day of the fire and were directed to other food banks for help, Spanaway Food Bank director Harold Smith said.

"The first step is just to make sure that the people who come here have a place to go," he said. "Other than that, I'm devastated."

The food bank's freezers and refrigerators were lost in the fire, and the food might not be salvageable, Smith said. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department will make the final determination.

"We're destroyed at this point," Smith said.

The fire was reported around 6 a.m. and was "heavily involved in fire" when crews arrived, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue spokesman Darrin Shaw said. At least one of the six portable structures that make up the food bank complex is a total loss, he said.

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately known.

The Spanaway Food Bank is staffed entirely by volunteers, and it has operated for over 40 years. The bank hands out about 15,000 pounds of food each month, with families generally coming by once or twice a month for supplies, Smith said.

The fire could not have come at a worse time, he said.

"Our busiest time for receiving funds and food are this time of year," Smith said. "Everybody thinks about the food bank this time of year. This is our biggest collection time and consistently our biggest distribution time as well. So it's sickening, it's just sickening."

Still, he said, the food bank will be rebuilt.

"We are going to rebuild, without a doubt -- we've just been here too long," Smith said. "We'll all get together and rally. Pray for us."

Michelle Douglas, the chief executive officer of the Emergency Food Network, said the Spanaway Food Bank is one of 80 food resource sites served by the network. She said Emergency Food Network workers can direct clients to an alternative food bank for now. The organization is also collecting monetary donations for the Spanaway Food Bank, Douglas said.

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