Jeniece Choate dashes through the halls, offices and storage rooms of the Kent Food Bank with a friendly demeanor, ready to help make sure people who stop in get their basic needs met.
In her 12th year as the food bank’s executive director, Choate knows day after day, week after week, month after month people continue to count on the agency at 515 W. Harrison St. for help with food and clothing.
“There’s not an end or finish line,” Choate said she took a short break in her small office from her busy routine. “But everyone who comes in, we are able to help them that day. We are not able to solve everything, but we can help that one part. If you don’t have food, you’re not getting proper nutrition and you’re not thinking clearly. You can make a much better decision if your belly’s full.”
Choate and Camico Rivon, the assistant director, are the only paid staff members at the food bank. About 60 volunteers help the food bank serve as many as 200 families on the busiest days during the holidays and an average of 100 families per day.
Because of Choate’s efforts and dedication to help make the Kent Food Bank a success, she is the Kent Reporter’s 2018 Person of the Year.
“Jeniece is a very compassionate, caring and hardworking individual,” said Pat Pawlik, president of the Kent Food Bank Board of Directors and a division chief with the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority. “Jeniece consistently does what she can to meet the needs of the community members who come to the Kent Food Bank for services. Jeniece is dedicated to helping people and does so in such a way that the clients always have a positive experience.”
Choate’s constant smile keeps those around her smiling as well.
“She is a delight to work with – always even-tempered and pleasant,” said Verla Morrison, the food bank board vice president who represents Kent United Methodist Church.
Local girl returns home
Choate oversees the local food bank and she is about as local as they come. She grew up on Kent’s East Hill and attended Meridian Elementary and Mattson Junior High and graduated in 2000 from Kentwood High School.
While at Kentwood, Choate (then known as Frydenlund) played volleyball and earned second team South Puget Sound League North Division honors as a setter in 1999. She went on to play at Green River College in Auburn for two years and was an All-Northwest Athletic Conference West Division first-team pick in 2001.
Choate gave up competitive volleyball when she transferred to Western Washington University in Bellingham, where she earned a community health degree in 2004.
She moved back to Kent after college, married Ryan Choate (they met at Green River) in 2005 and worked at Fred Meyer before her mother spotted a story in the old South King County Journal newspaper about the Kent Food Bank looking for a new executive director.
“My mom thought it would be perfect for me,” Choate said.
The food bank board hired her in 2006, just two years after the food bank moved to the current West Harrison Street site from Kent Commons, the city-owned recreational facility. The food bank has operated in Kent since 1970.
“Jeniece has built a great team of volunteers who work at the food bank,” said Pawlik, a 19-year board member, including more than 10 years as president. “Jeniece is a good communicator and can connect with all the volunteers.”
Choate said she couldn’t do her job without all the volunteers, even more so with the way the number of clients has grown. When Choate started, a busy day at the food bank meant 40 to 50 families.
“We had one computer and everything else was done by hand,” Choate said. “It was a long check-in system, write it down and slide it down to the next person. Six months after I was here, we got four computers so we can do one-on-one visits with each client.”
“Lucky to have her”
Pawlik has watched how well Choate does her job.
“We are very lucky to have Jeniece as our executive director,” Pawlik said. “Just as every executive director we have had, Jeniece has been able to move the Kent Food Bank to the next level. She has streamlined the operations at the food bank to make the process easier and quicker for our clients.”
Morrison can tell Choate takes pride in her work.
“She leads by example – working long hours and weekends when needed,” Morrison said. “She is the one to write grants, balance the budget and oversee everything. We are so lucky to have her.”
Choate enjoys the variety of the job. Those who come in include the homeless or newly unemployed.
“No two days are the same,” she said. “We are able to help people when they come in the door. They need food, we are able to send them out with food. We are low barrier, you just need picture ID and proof of address and we can help you.”
Finding more funds remains a constant duty for Choate. The city of Kent and United Way are the primary donors, although United Way continues to cut back funding. Individuals are actually the second highest funding source behind the city of Kent. People send quarterly or yearly checks. Businesses and churches also contribute.
The donations help the food bank to purchase items such as milk and eggs, which it gets at a discount. Choate searches for discounts and the best deals to get the best bang for the buck.
In addition to running the food bank, Choate volunteers with the Sunrise Elementary School PTA. Her 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son attend the school. She also coached her daughter in soccer through the city of Kent Parks recreational program and now coaches her son. Choate played soccer in the city program when she was a kid.
Her children also help out once a month with distribution at the food bank.
“It’s great to have the kids involved in what I do,” she said.
And so, living and working in Kent serves Choate well just as she serves the community so well.
“I grew up here, so it’s my home and it’s my home now,” she said.
Kent Food Bank
Provides for basic needs, food, clothing and shelter to thousands of families yearly
Main Alliance location
505 W. Harrison St.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Second Wednesday of each month
5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday Seniors (55 plus)
10 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Kent Food Bank Birch Creek Annex
12961 SE 275th St.
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Food Bank services only
Only perishable and refrigerated food available
• Bring these items at each visit:
Current Food Bank card
Your own bags or boxes to carry your food