AGENCY SPOTLIGHT: WASHINGTON GORGE ACTION PROGRAMS
Author: Elias Piña
Whether you are heading to the Washington Gorge Action Programs’ (WAGAP) flagship location in Bingen or any of their three other food banks, you are met with Mt. Hood’s breathtaking mountain and the rushing Columbia River that’s filled with windsurfers or kayakers. In Bingen, you’ll find all sorts of shops and restaurants—but one of the businesses you might not notice is a national grocery store. This is where Second Harvest’s partner, WAGAP, helps fill a need for people in and around their communities in Klickitat and Skamania counties.
According to the 2019 Map the Meal Gap produced by Feeding America, 13.9% of the population in Klickitat County is considered food insecure. The average price of a meal for residents costs $5.26, one of the most expensive in the state of Washington. More recent reports from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that 16.4% of reported households in Klickitat County receive SNAP benefits. This is 4.2% higher than the reported number for Skamania County at 12.2%— both higher than the reported average for Washington state. Furthermore, the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction shows a high percentage of students who received free or reduced-priced lunches in Klickitat County school districts ranging from 31.4% to 96.7%. The WAGAP staff understands this hardship and purposely curates food boxes with as much produce as possible, while ensuring their boxes contain “three to 12 nutritionally-balanced meals, and are customized for the size of a family.”
During my recent visit to WAGAP food banks, Nutrition Program Director Janeal Booren explained that each location helps provide groceries for some of the families who can’t travel to a store. Traveling across state lines or to the nearest town isn’t always feasible for some of WAGAP’s clients. To meet the community need, WAGAP’s four food banks are open various hours and days during the week.
Through combined support from the Washington State Department of Agriculture, farmers, Second Harvest, and other nonprofit organizations, WAGAP food banks provide nutritious food boxes filled with canned goods, fresh produce, bread, and frozen meat for their communities. The Bingen location supplements the boxes with fresh lettuce grown in their aquaponic garden.
WAGAP’s community support extends beyond the doors of their food banks. Other programs offered by WAGAP include emergency housing, energy assistance, a youth program and more. Each pantry location is unique and helps their communities as best they can with open arms. As Booren mentioned, “Our services are available to anyone that is in need, and don’t hesitate to see us.”