Photo courtesy of Nancy McKinney
Nancy and husband, Rich Milsteadt.

Ballard Food Bank prepares for transition as one beloved leader bids farewell

By Christy Wolyniak

In its early days, the Ballard Food Bank served 700 clients on a busy week – a mere handful compared to the 1200 to 1400 clients who now frequent the nonprofit every week.

One of 27 food banks or ‘food pantries’ as they are known across in Seattle, the Ballard Food Bank carries out its mission: neighbors helping neighbors by distributing resources to low-income families, the elderly and disabled, and those without homes residing in the 98107, 98117, 98119 and 98199 zip codes.

Deeply appreciated amongst the staff, clients, and volunteers, Executive Director Nancy McKinney is parting ways with the Ballard Food Bank after seven years of faithful service.

“She has had an amazing community presence in our service area of Ballard, Magnolia, and Queen Anne over the last seven years, and is highly regarded both in our local community as well as in the Seattle hunger-relief community,” said Ballard Food Bank Development Associate, Erin MacDonald.

Living in Ballard for over 25 years, McKinney calls this tight-knit and supportive community home, whose rich background in both accounting and nonprofit endeavors contributed greatly to her work with the Ballard Food Bank.

“At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to food. Some people may need to come to the food bank for just a period in life while they are doing other things, whereas other people will need this service longer because of disabilities,” said McKinney.

In 2010, the organization moved to a new facility on Leary Avenue. Affectionately referred to as the “big blue building”, this larger space offered a parking lot ideal for food distribution that was in close proximity to a bus line.

Beyond meeting a person’s daily nutritional needs, the Ballard Food Bank provides services such as home delivery to 90 individuals, a hygiene bar and sack lunch service four days a week. Individuals without an address are able to receive mail services, ID recovery and emergency financial assistance as well.

“It is challenging and satisfying to keep volunteers on track, fundraise appropriately, get your message out and educate people that there is a need in this part of the world,” said McKinney.

McKinney attributed the annual Turkey Trot as instrumental in educating the community on the needs of their neighbors and the presence of the Ballard Food Bank.

As one might imagine, meeting the daily needs of 1000-plus clients each week can unfold into a busy workday. In spite of this, McKinney took each day with stride and a reason to smile.

“Nancy's management approach has always been, ‘do whatever is needed to get the job done’ and she did. On really crazy days it isn't unusual to see Nancy unloading a truck or even plunging a toilet, often getting those around her to laugh as we rush around doing whatever needs to be done to get the job done,” said Peggy Bailey, Ballard Food Bank Operations Manager.

The Ballard Food Bank collaborates with many organizations including the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), preparing individuals with job skills to boost employment potential.

Much of the nonprofit’s donations come from Northwest Harvest, Food Lifeline and grocery store recovery, as well as local P-Patches and markets.

“I love my neighbors and my community and appreciate that we have a little grocery store option for people. Every day I get to see how neighbors help their neighbors and see them get their needs met because of the people who live here,” said McKinney.

“’Stories that have impacted me the hardest are the people who don’t believe they’re that person who should use a food bank – that ‘there’s somebody worse off than I am,”’ she said. “It really tears people up when they have needs and it’s hard to ask for help.”

McKinney described an encounter with a woman who needed help to feed her teenage sons and felt that she could not utilize the food bank.

‘“It was great to be able to look at her one mother to another, and say, ‘This is for you. This is a place to come and shop, and take care of your kids,”’ said McKinney.

According to Bailey, McKinney is leaving behind a strong and thriving organization, which will help cushion the transition of new leadership in coming weeks.

“ It has been a real honor and pleasure to work for her and I'm grateful for her vision of food equity and being thoughtful about sharing resources with other agencies across the city, because, as part of our mission states, ‘...there can be enough for everyone,"’ said MacDonald.

McKinney and her husband plan to move to Winthrop, Wash., where they will open a bed and breakfast, farm, cross-country ski and enjoy rural living. Nonprofit work always in her pulse, McKinney plans to continue working with purpose through Ski for Light, which teaches visually or mobility-impaired adults the art of cross-country skiing.

The Ballard Food Bank will be hosting its fourth annual one-day online giving event on May 6. For more information, visit

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