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!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Breakfast After the Bell-- A Small Victory for Kids

Guest Blogger: Shawn Paton, Community Investment, Strong Families & Basic Needs, United Way

A bill that United Way’s across the state have advocated for with legislators for a number of years will soon be signed into law! Breakfast after the Bell moves school breakfast service from before school, when many children do not have the opportunity to participate prior to the start of class, to after the start of the school day, so it is available to all kids regardless of how early they arrive at school.

In Pierce County, more than 50,000 students are enrolled in free and reduced-price school meal programs. Children struggling with hunger have more health issues, miss more days of school and may have behavioral issues.  Making sure that these kids have breakfast means children who arrive at school hungry aren’t forced to wait until lunch to eat. Breakfast gives these kids the energy to focus and do better in school.

Many of these children rely on free school breakfast and lunch to provide foundational nutrition during the week, so Breakfast after the Bell is a victory for hungry children! However, these same children are at risk of going hungry on weekends and school breaks when free school meals aren’t available. That is why United Way of Pierce County supports the Power Packs program, providing food packs on weekends and over school breaks for those children most at risk of not having enough food at home.

Despite the economic boom in our region, hunger is a growing issue. 

Our food bank partners report that nearly 70% of households they serve have at least one working adult. Forty percent of their clients are under 18 years of age. 

Food bank visitors report having difficulty making ends meet because of rapidly increasing housing costs, child care costs and more. Some working families make too much to qualify for free and reduced-price meal programs, but because of other household expenses, they are not able to afford school lunches or even to put enough food on the table at the end of the month.

United Way is working in partnership with the Hunger-Free Pierce County Collaborative to fight hunger in our community. Visit to find out how you can get involved! 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Reflections on a Day of Advocacy

Guest Blog by Lindsay Morgan Tracy, Vice President, Community Impact, United Way of Pierce County

On February 1, 2018, a contingency of United Way of Pierce County advocates, descended upon our state’s Capitol in Olympia to talk about legislative priorities and concerns. A group of fifteen staff, friends and board members, spent the day meeting with our legislators or their aides to talk about keys issues that are important to our community.

One of the key themes at our From Poverty to Possibilities event was the importance of being fully engaged in policies and advocacy efforts that impact the stability of Pierce County. Our attendees highlighted the need to assess and review policies that are keeping people poor or even incentivizing them to stay in poverty (a/k/a the Benefit’s Cliff). 

Spending a day on Capitol Hill takes commitment for all who take the time. It is a significant commitment from the business community that allowed their employees to take the day to champion causes important to the greater good of our residents. Special thanks to WSECU, State Farm, Western State Hospital and CHI-Franciscan for allowing your staff to participate in this good work!

As our group divided to conquer our 20 meetings, we received a lot of feedback from our political leaders. While we don’t spend a lot of time in Olympia, this trip reinforced the fact that our work is continuing to be heard by Washington State leadership. 

A few of the key takeaways include:

  • Our legislators love the fact that 2-1-1 is a life changing and often lifesaving program that many aides refer to constituents when they call their representatives/senators and let them know they need help. This was heard repeatedly throughout the day. It’s hard to even imagine how the aides would respond if South Sound 2-1-1 didn’t serve the Pierce, Thurston and Lewis communities.
  • Our Pierce County legislative leaders work well together and they consistently all meet (as Republicans and Democrats) to discuss bipartisan ways to move forward - - this is rare at a statewide level and nationally.
  • Corey Mosesly’s leadership in a bill with Representative Laurie Jinkins continued to get support (HB2730) for business tax credits to reduce cost barriers for adults attending college to further their careers. 
  • Legislators truly enjoyed having kids there to learn about the legislative body of work. In fact, last year, Matt Levi’s daughters were instrumental in advocating for Breakfast After The Bell, which had just passed on January 30! The girls were thrilled and even more impressive—legislators remembered them from last year and continued to encourage them to champion for important causes. 
  • We also learned that our Strong Family legislation was not fully supported, as some legislators desired more accountability in the language of the bills. They were very articulate with their reasoning and we appreciated their time to discuss specifics with us so we could learn what we could do to ensure movement.

The day ended with a reception at the Governor’s Mansion where our President & CEO, Dona Ponepinto served as the emcee. After Governor Jay Inslee’s address, one of our younger delegates (yes, my son, Eban) got a picture with him so he could write his very own blog for school about his Day on the Hill with United Way of Pierce County.

Learn more about our 2018 State Policy Agenda or visit to stay abreast with current issues.  Check out additional photos from the day!