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FISH of Cowlitz County reports increase in demand

Number served in 2023 increased 40% over 2022

By Minka Atkinson, The Daily News
Published: February 27, 2024, 8:12pm

LONGVIEW — More Cowlitz County residents are making use of FISH of Cowlitz County’s food bank than ever before.

The demand for FISH’s services rose sharply in 2023 and is showing signs of continuing to increase in 2024, said Bob Gaston, vice president of FISH’s board of directors.

The program experienced a historic dip in demand in 2021, when expansions to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits aiming to offset the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that far fewer people had need of food banks.

“When they had the funds and the ability to buy food, they did so,” Gaston said.

Those extra benefits expired early in 2023, however, and that along with rising food prices have driven more people to seek assistance feeding themselves and their families, Gaston said.

Between January 2022 and January 2023, the cost of food increased by about 10 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2023 to 2024, that cost increased by another 2.6 percent.

In 2023, FISH provided food for almost 29,500 people — a 40 percent increase from 2022 and more than double the number served in 2021, according to an analysis published by FISH.

The program’s previous high was in 2019, when it served 26,491 people; 2021 was its lowest year by far with only 13,500 people served.

These numbers are not a unique headcount, and include households that requested food more than once during the year. FISH served 1,724 unique households in 2023, occupied by a total of 5,504 people.

So far in 2024, the number of people served has continued to rise. January saw a 16 percent increase over January 2023, and the first half of February saw an increase of 22 percent compared to the same time period last year, Gaston said.

FISH is a nonprofit that partners with churches in Longview and Kelso to give away food five days per week. Each household can request free food through the program up to four times per month.