Monday, November 12, 2018

Washington State is one of THREE states that will not get fresh milk for their food banks until April 2019

by Lindsay Morgan Tracy

According to the National Dairy Council, “The body of science indicates that eating nutritious dairy foods — such as milk, cheese and yogurt — improves bone health, especially in children and adolescents. They are also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.”
Thank you for letting me share this piece. Last week after the amazing Poverty to Possibilities summit, I took some of the leftover muffins to a food bank that was open on the evenings so that their clients could enjoy them. (As a side note, I love it when food banks are open during nontraditional times during the week as we know so many folks are working during the day and can’t hit up a food bank that’s only open 9am – 4pm).
As we recently learned in the ALICE report, 42% of our county is struggling to make ends meet or they are in poverty. This is up 10% from two years ago. This is staggering. When many households have to choose to pay rent, utilities or food, they choose to pay rent/utilities and will head to a food bank to get food.
Now back to my night after the UWPC event. I headed to a food bank and got there 10 minutes before it opened. I met with the warehouse manager and weighed the food and a high school volunteer immediately started putting the muffins in individual baggies. As I looked up from the scale, I noticed tons and tons of cereal on the top shelves. OODLES of cereal?!
My contact was busy working to accommodate me and our last minute donation and help manage expectations from the many volunteers in the food bank. Then I couldn’t help but notice the influx of people into the food bank. Now, this food bank isn’t in an urban area. It’s rural so people have to take the time to get there. My contact was busy helping volunteers look for specific items, such as chicken soup as a mom was looking for some - - either boxed or canned - - for her little girl who was sick. “Sorry, we don’t have any this week,” I heard. Ugh.
Then I learned that there is no milk in the state for the food banks. This caused me to pause. The area in the warehouse that had tons of cereal would be distributed to clients but with no milk. This made me think that it’s just like giving crayons to kids and then telling them there was no paper.  I learned that Washington State was one of three states that did not receive bids from local milk vendors therefore it’s very likely that there will be no fresh milk for our food banks from last month to March 2019. While there are plans to work with the dairy industry to get local bids, this is a gap with our food partners that many people do not know about.
What can we do?
·         Help fundraise with “Dollars for Dairy” for your local food bank - here is an example of what you can do.
·         Ask your legislators what they can do and ask for a timeline.
·         Make a monetary donation designated for milk to your local food bank.
·         Volunteer time at a food bank.
·         Work with United Way’s Hunger-Free Pierce County initiative to stay abreast of the work.
Dr. Michael McAfee challenged us to be dogged about our work. YES! He also said we are here because our institutions have lost their capacity to serve. He was spot on. I got up at 4am to write this as I know those folks in the food bank are my people. They need to be of all our people as Dr. McAfee said.
As I left the food bank, I noticed so many kids outside happily playing in the dark while their parents or caregivers received food. And then I got in my truck and slowly started to drive away from the small food bank. It reminded me of the end of the movie Field of Dreams. There were so many cars in the parking lot and more cars pulling up with their lights on. As the camera pans up and out, the cars continue for miles. While the cars didn’t continue for miles in my case, it was lengthy and one where I hope anyone would be truly uncomfortable. But more importantly, I want people to act and advocate. I will.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Free Summer Meals for Kids Kicks Off in Pierce County

The CenturyLink team takes a break with Rhubarb,
the Rainier mascot.

One in six children struggles with hunger and many children who rely on school meals, struggle to get enough to eat during the summer months. This fact is unacceptable to United Way of Pierce County as well as many local health and human service partners that are fighting hunger. Together, they are helping to provide kids with nutritious food at various sites during the summer months (from June 25-August 30).

More than 100 children, families and volunteers turned out for the kickoff event held at the Drake Apartment complex in Tacoma, sponsored by CenturyLink. It brought employees from across CenturyLink  departments together to learn more and by rolling up their sleeves to dig into the work—with activities focused on activities with books and serving food.

“We are glad we had the opportunity to help United Way celebrate the worldwide Day of Action, and we had a great time helping the children at the Drake Apartments with summer learning activities! We are thrilled with this partnership because it brings home the work that needs to be done to support children and families in Pierce County.” --Robert Betancourt, Manager, Regional Operations, CenturyLink.

In addition to offering free, nutritious meals, several of the sites provide an incentive for children to participate in summer enrichment programs, which means that children are not only well fed, but engaged in academic and recreational activities.

“The Summer Meals program ensures that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session,” said Lindsay Morgan Tracy, Vice President, Community Impact and Engagement for United Way of Pierce County. “Last year, Summer Meals partners served more than150,000 meals, but because of barriers to accessing sites, like transportation, limited walkability and awareness, only 20% of the children who qualified for free school meals, were able to participate in the program.”

Raising awareness and advocating for important food assistance programs like SNAP are part of the hunger puzzle. Earlier this year, United Way along with many partners worked with legislators to ensure that Breakfast After the Bell (House Bill 1508) passed to help address student hunger and increase family financial stability by making breakfast part of the school day – just like lunch. 

Summer Meals is a federally funded program providing free lunches and sometimes breakfast and snack, for any child 18 and younger who lives within a qualified school area or neighborhood area. To qualify, schools must have 50% or more students signed up for the free and reduced price lunch program.

The majority of sites receive federal reimbursement for qualified sites. There are challenges with serving schools and neighborhoods where there are hungry children, but not enough to meet the 50% USDA threshold. Some nonprofit organizations are using the private pay model to ensure children are fed, while others partners host serving sites where there are hungry kids, but the sites do not qualify under USDA guidelines. These sites receive funding through private donations and grants.

Summer Meals partners are: Bethel School District, Boys & Girls Clubs, Clover Park School District, Families Unlimited Network, Food Backpacks 4 Kids, Franklin Pierce School District, Metro Parks, Orting Food Bank, Pierce County Library System, Prairie Ridge Community Center, St. Leo Food Connection, Sumner School District and YMCA of Pierce & Kitsap Counties. 

To learn more, visit to find sites, locations, dates and times or you may call South Sound 2-1-1 by simply dialing 2-1-1 for more information.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Sew Kind! The Gift is in the Giving

A quilt is a special gift, one that can spread comfort to those in need. Just take a look around our own community and think, ‘who needs a quilt?’ Homeless shelters, women’s shelters and hospitals are a great place to start.

United Way of Pierce County has been procuring items for individuals and families in need in our community for many years and there are a number of local businesses and donors who have contributed. 

However, few of the donations are as personal as the gift of homemade quilts pieced together by two secret sewing angels, who have taken their passion in pursuit of providing comfort.

As you can imagine, it takes time, effort and money to make these quilted blankets.  However, the quilting duo (who chose not share their names) think everyone deserves sweet comfort, especially members of our community who may be forgotten or overlooked.

The women are members of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Tacoma where their church sponsors a group called ‘Sew Kindness.’ 

“We have been members of this sewing group for approximately twelve years.  In the beginning, our group was quite large but now there are just a few of us left.  The church generously donates a space to meet, set up and work each week.  They also provide us with an area to store all of our sewing supplies.”

For the past several years, they have applied for and received grants through the Thrivent Financial Group, which is a Lutheran financial and insurance company based in Minnesota. They receive these grants through a special program they call Thrivent Action Team Projects. These monetary stipends assist in accomplishing community-based project goals and objectives. 

“We feel very blessed to be able to receive these funds to pay for supplies and materials for our quilting group.  Although we have no knowledge of who receives our blankets, we know that through United Way of Pierce County’s Gifts In Kind program,  they are being distributed to deserving families in need.”

According to Phyllis Roepke, Sr. Associate, Gifts In Kind, United Way of Pierce County, “There is just nothing that compares to the comfort of a handmade quilt that has been pieced together with love.”

On a related note, we are sad that Phyllis will be retiring in June after more than 10 years with United Way, but we are so happy that she will be pursuing personal dreams. Phyllis has made a herculean effort in acquiring donations from companies that include the Men’s Wearhouse, IKEA, Bed, Bath and Beyond and other regional businesses as well as member organizations like churches and women’s groups and of course, local families.

Pete Grignon, CFO, United Way of Pierce County noted, “Phyllis brings joy and enthusiasm to the job that is hard to replace. She has organized our annual holiday toy and book drive as well as getting beautiful professional attire that boosts job seekers’ confidence. She will be missed and never forgotten.” 

If you or someone you know would like to make a gift of new or unused clothing, office furniture, home furnishings, appliances, toys, bedding and toiletries, please contact us at 253-597-7485.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Community-Minded Students Inspire Others through Leadership

Willie Stewart became a pioneer in 1970 when he was named to lead Lincoln High School and he became the Tacoma School District’s first African American principal. He made a name for himself by setting the standard for success by living his true purpose and having a positive impact on the lives of people by uplifting them and inspiring them to think and act in ways that they may not have considered before. His leadership in the Pierce County community is truly inspiring.
Willie Stewart and his friend, Karl Anderson, co-founded the Willie Stewart Community Service Scholarship 19 years ago to honor the commitment and dedication of students across Pierce County who give back to their community.

On May 31, United Way of Pierce County was proud to commemorate Willie Stewart’s contributions to Pierce County, during an awards ceremony. The scholarship ceremony recognized 19 high school seniors who have given back to their community, locally and globally, through volunteer service.

Stewart noted in his remarks that after he served in the Army and later became Superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools, he realized the importance of serving your community. He wanted to find a way to recognize the hard working students who dedicate their time and energy to community service.

“There is no other place I would rather be than right here honoring these youth who give us hope and who deserve to be recognized.”-- Willie Stewart.

Hats off to: Reese Anselmi, Rimpal Bajwa, Kelsey Bell, Aaron Crook, Callisa DeHut, Alyssa Gries, Samantha Griffith, Madeline Lambert, Michelina Luong, Sidney Mueller, Lina Park, Kelly Phan, Angel Reddy, Mackenzie Richards, Eve Robinson, Alexis Tisby, Spencer Wesenberg, Hannah Wisti and Caroline Yi.

One recipient said she was 'delighted to receive the scholarship in the first place and it also helps to relieve some of the financial burden on me and my family.'  All students and families shared that they were both honored and glad to meet Mr. Stewart.  

One parent noted that this scholarship is a unique opportunity to show appreciation for the efforts of these students to engage with the community, beyond participating in their school activities and ‘I hope it continues so my younger daughter can apply.’

It's impressive today to see so many young people taking charge to lead positive change. We salute the fine young people who accepted the Willie Stewart award and we are eager to hear how they will choose to use servant leadership to improve conditions for others.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

AmeriCorps Gets Things Done

In Celebration of National Community Service Week, we salute our AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) members who complete a year of national service at United Way of Pierce County. VISTA members serve as a catalyst for change, living and working alongside community members to advance local solutions. 
Michealea and Natasha at Walker High School

Michealea Lemons, the Education VISTA and Natasha Laitila, the Hunger-Free Pierce County VISTA, network with community leaders about how to address issues of poverty within Pierce County. 

Michealea assists in managing the Education programs at United Way, which include READ United: Afterschool, READ United: Summer Learning and Lil Readers. She also attends community meetings and outreach fairs to inform locals about community service opportunities.  

Natasha assists in organizing and managing cooking demonstration volunteer programs for food banks, creates and builds collaborative relationships among 30+ organizations by facilitating the Hunger-Free Pierce County Collaborative, Power Packs Partners Network and Pierce County Summer Meals. 

By connecting the community with United Way, our VISTAs are creating a partnership that will have long lasting benefits. Through their efforts, they are helping to lay a foundation for sustainable programming and community engagement. Both VISTAs are gearing up for United Way’s Summer Meals and Summer Learning Programs-- focused on feeding children in high need, low resource areas, simultaneously provide books
to read and volunteers facilitate the work. 

LIVE United with our VISTA's and United Way of Pierce County by visiting or to see how you can give back to the community. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Go Further with Food

Submitted by Guest Blogger Shawn Paton, Director, Volunteer Engagement, Community Building & Investments, United Way of Pierce County

In Pierce County, where obesity and chronic disease diagnosis rates are higher than the national average, nutrition education is an important piece to increasing the health and well-being of our residents. Health-related issues directly attributable to food insecurity include: asthma, COPD, type 2 diabetes, obesity, arthritis, gout, lupus, fibromyalgia, as well as anemia and hospitalizations for children. Indirect health costs related to hunger include dental issues, increased doctor and emergency room visits and increased need for prescription medications.

What contributes to poor nutrition?

One in six households in our community cannot afford enough food for all household members to lead healthy lives.

Some families lack transportation, so they are unable to access grocery stores or even food banks. For those living in food deserts-- where the closest food source is a corner store or mini-mart featuring high priced, unhealthy food options-- it is difficult to find affordable, high-quality fresh food. For some, the barrier is knowledge about how to plan meals, shop on a budget or prepare healthy meals at home.

In the past, cooking skills were passed down from generation to generation, but this trend has been broken, with many parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet leaving little time for home-cooked meals, resulting in millions of people across the country lacking even the most basic food preparation skills. The Hunger-Free Pierce County Collaborative is working together to help all Pierce County residents lead healthier lives through nutrition education projects.

Colorful Cooking Made Easy is a nutrition education program featuring trained volunteers who perform cooking demonstrations at local food banks, teach cooking and nutrition classes and lead grocery store tours all designed to help families learn how to shop for and prepare healthy meals from scratch.  Skills taught during Colorful Cooking Made Easy programming include meal planning, shopping on a budget, healthy cooking and help to make healthy eating a daily reality.

The hunger collaborative food bank partners are also working to help individuals and families understand the importance of selecting healthier food options by making it easy for food bank visitors to find those options among the various products available. Colorful Cooking Made Easy food bank cooking demonstrators take fresh produce in stock at the pantry that day and create healthy, delicious and simple meals, providing clients with the recipes and ingredients to take home and prepare themselves. The emergency food system is also working to increase the amount of fresh produce, dairy and proteins available for food bank clients.

How can you help change the story for individuals and families in Pierce County? There are many ways to get involved in the fight against hunger in our community. Host a food or dairy drive. Hold a soup kit making project. Volunteer to lead a cooking class or grocery store to learn more and to get involved!