Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Curbing the Summer Slide: Read United At Meal Sites

Summer break is highly anticipated and celebrated by most children. However, for children who rely on school for meals and reading enrichment, it can be a challenge. Did you know that children can lose up to two months of learning over the summer break? For children in high-need areas with no access to books or summer learning activities, the loss can be even greater. Read United: Summer is designed to keep children engaged and excited about reading and learning over the summer months. United Way of Pierce County staff, interns and volunteers visit free summer meal sites in high-need, low-access areas throughout the summer to read with kids and give away books for the children to keep and read at home anytime!

For the first time, United Way of Pierce County is helping to ensure children are receiving supplemental snacks to feed their bodies in addition to books to feed their minds over the summer! On United Way Worldwide’s Day of Action in June, 3,050 Summer Snack Packs and 150 Summer Learning Packs were assembled. We are grateful to our corporate sponsors and volunteers, whose support made this project possible. The snack packs, which include healthy packaged items and shelf-stable milk, will be distributed each week to 150+ children at the Read United: Summer sites in Tacoma, Lakewood and Franklin Pierce school districts. Children in attendance will also have the opportunity to sign up for ongoing engagement for 6-8 weeks and receive a Summer Learning Pack to keep them motivated.

Research on book deserts, areas that lack of access to print reading materials, show that the summer months drastically limit book access in high-poverty neighborhoods, according to Urban Education. The effects of the summer slide are cumulative: losing months of learning each summer can place children an entire grade behind their peers over the duration of their elementary education and researchers estimate that by the time a struggling reader reaches middle school, summer reading loss has accumulated to a two-year lag in reading achievement.

Join us and make a difference for a child in need this summer. By bringing together caring individuals, resources and summer feeding and reading programs,you can take advantage of a great opportunity to support summer learning and cultivate a love of reading with children. This is a multi-disciplinary approach with  Hunger-Free Pierce County to enhance the educational component of their work. Through effective partnerships, we trust more children can be impacted by this approach.

For more information about Read United, please email volunteer@uwpc.org or register for a lunchtime volunteer session here volunteer session here





Monday, July 1, 2019

A Fresh Start for Melissa

We recently received a letter of thanks for South Sound 2-1-1 support. Elvia, one of our amazing team members, got this lovely thank you that we want to share with you. Without your support we would not be able to help tens of thousands of Pierce, Thurston and Lewis County residents every year!

"My name is Melissa. I have a 19 year old daughter named Stephanie who I had when I was 16. Now I’m having a baby boy due on August 13th. We were leaving a domestic violence situation and were homeless, living in a car, when I reached Elvia at 211. She provided many resources that helped me to meet our needs, including a gift card to help me get some things for the baby. I was able to find a more consistent job and an apartment for us! With the financial help that was provided, we were able to move into our new home on June 15th.... in time for my baby boy! I am so grateful for the help and fresh start for me-- and more importantly my children. Thank you so much!" Melissa
To learn more about South Sound 2-1-1 visit our web page, download the annual 2-1-1 report or make a gift to support our work!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Paying it Forward with 2-1-1



By Guest Blogger, J'nai Starks, South Sound 2-1-1 Workforce Navigator 

I have always been a person that has a passion to help people in need. Even in grade school, I always made a point to speak to our janitors because I knew that there is more than what you see on the surface.

Everyone has feelings and is important to someone else.  In fact, without workers like this, our infrastructure would crumble.

I have carried this attitude throughout my life. In my late teens and early 20’s I would go out and feed homeless people on my own. Taking my own money and making sack lunches, and not just PB & J sandwiches either, but full-on lunches. The look on their faces when they opened those bags filled my heart with happiness and gave me hope.

I myself have been in crisis and there was nowhere to turn. This left me in a position of feeling hopeless. One day, I saw a sign somewhere that said just that, “Nowhere to turn? Call 2-1-1.” So, I did. I was connected to resources to help me in my time of need. 

I personally know the struggle of the 2-1-1 caller being vulnerable and feeling shame in asking for help. That’s why I know I must always bring compassion, empathy and empowerment with me every day to work so I can be that bright spot in someone’s day.

Many times, I have had someone call in tears, to say they don’t know what to do-- or where to turn. By the end of that call, I have identified resources and provided words of encouragement so they know to keep fighting and also to know, that this storm will pass.

One person I remember very well is Gary. He was scared and crying and worried about his health. He wanted to know where to go to get a health test. During that call, Gary shared that he was homeless and living in his car. He also told me, he didn’t want to live anymore, because life has gotten so hard.

I wanted Gary to know that it was going to be ok and life was worth living.  So I took the time to talk to him but mostly I listened.  Much of our job involves listening so we can find the best solutions for each person.

I encouraged Gary to be strong and whatever challenges he faced-- to know he can get thru it.  By the end of our call he was laughing and told me he had the will to live. Gary said he felt that no one listened to him, but I took the time to let him vent, speak his heart and listen to him as he explained his life to me.

Not only did I provide resources for where he can go to get a health test but I also provided resources to Gary over the phone and thru email which included shelters, safe parking, local food pantries and gas vouchers.

Gary responded to me later that day saying: “You gave me hope this evening, your voice made me feel like I was not alone anymore. This is a testament to your courage and ability in your job and your unwavering support for broken people. You gave me hope and it instilled. I cannot express how deeply your words meant to me. You took away my fear regardless of the pending outcome.”

One week later, I followed up with Gary and he told me:  “Everything is going great! Your help, helped! So far, I'm doing much better and I guess I had to go through all of that to sharpen me more.  I have utilized church services for: Gas, a phone card and food pantry services-- so far my health is better! And my test was negative.”

That is just one of many stories. Which is why I do what I do and why I love it. Without 2-1-1, many lives would be at stake financially, emotionally and physically.  Each of us are here on earth to do our part – and building up our community to be the best that it can be, by being a member of the 2-1-1 team, I am given the opportunity to do just that every day.

I love working at 2-1-1. To know that I am helping our community, one member at a time warms my heart and makes me want to be a better person every day. Thank you for your time and I hope each of you are doing your part as well.


My Story...So Far


By Guest Blogger Markiss Cooper, owner/partner, iHAUL

I became a father at the early age of 16. I was soon paying child support, which is tough when you’re a kid and you’re still in high school. In no time at all, I was $3,000 in debt and that debt just kept growing. I dropped out of high school so I could work. As you can imagine, that debt stacked up and I was on an uphill battle just to survive, much less find a path forward.

Fast forward, I got my high school diploma and started community college where I earned my associates degree. During that time, I got married and we have a wonderful 7-year old daughter.

I moved to Tacoma where I worked in a charter school where things were very tumultuous. My uncle introduced me to Tim at Sound Outreach and with Tim, who runs united Way’s Center for Strong Families. Right away, I connected with Tim—he’s someone I can really talk with. I got myself set up with a financial coach, went through literacy training. I grew my savings while I improved my credit score. These may seem like small things, but they grew into bigger things.

For example, my credit score went from the low 500s to the high 700’s. Once I understood more about what I could do with the assets I had, then it opened up my eyes to other possibilities.

I was so proud the day I could buy a 2012 Sierra pick up. Because you see, I had always been entrepreneurial and taken on odd jobs to help people move things and it was Tim who planted the seed in me. What if I could start my own business?

That’s exactly what I did. In January 2018, iHAUL, was launched--the hardest working logistics partner in South Puget Sound.  It’s true. Today, I am running my own business. It’s a small start-up with big ideas. We provide White Glove Delivery Service, Room-of-Choice Service for Residential and Commercial Deliveries. Each of my team members are expertly trained, hard-working and honest home delivery movers, who are just as dedicated to their work.

They’re like most people who struggle but work hard. I am proof that you can reach your goals and I am grateful for United Way’s Center for Strong Families and for Sound Outreach for taking a chance on me. It was also one best decisions I’ve ever made. Besides marrying my wife and having our family together.


Nourishing our Community


By Guest Blogger, Sue Potter, Executive Director, Nourish Pierce County. 

Sue Potter (right)
Nourish is the largest network of Food Banks in the County, operating 24 distributions sites.  Our reach is vast.  Last year, one-third of all food bank visits in the county are to a Nourish food bank. In fact, 7% of Pierce County visited a Nourish food bank at least once last year.  We couldn’t reach that many people in need without partners like the United Way.

I’d like to publicly thank United Way for the generous donation of a refrigerated vehicle. It sounds so simple, but let me tell you, it has helped us to redistribute thousands of pounds if fresh produce to over 61,000 food bank customers. The addition of a refrigerated box truck, brings the total number of vehicles in the refrigerated vehicle fleet to five. These vehicles are used for food rescue, meal delivery, gleaning and perishable donation pickups, resulting in nearly 250,000 pounds of food and the equivalent of more than 220,000 meals. Thank you all for making it a priority to move people out of hunger in our community.

Having fresh produce has helped us to improve the variety of nutritious food options. Fresh fruit and produce at food banks is The Gold Standard and because of United Way, we meet this standard. The latest truck in our fleet is gold and we lovingly refer to her as Goldy.
I want to tell you about Debbie, who still tears up when she talks about her trips to the Nourish Pierce County food bank. “It’s just temporary … just temporary,” she says.

She and her husband recently suffered through a series of difficulties and suddenly found themselves not able to make ends meet. Since she lost her job, they’re on one income for five people.. She was working in a warehouse and making a decent wage, but physical limitations and trying to “keep up with the kids” left her out in the cold.

Adding to the woes, both her car and her husband’s car died on their way to work just a few weeks apart. After 12 years without car payments, they now have two. She tells us, if it wasn’t for the food bank, we would have to decide between food and paying our expenses. This is a godsend. The food they get here lets them know they are going to have enough food to last you a week or so.

'Goldy' the newest in the fleet
Debbie and her family are one of thousands of people in our community who would not have food if it wasn’t for the support of partners like United Way of Pierce County. They are one of the driving forces behind Hunger-Free Pierce County. And by driving, in my case, I mean literally. United Way has funded mobile food delivery in the County.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

Innovative Cooking Skills Program Addresses Hunger in Pierce County


National Nutrition Month contribution by guest blogger, Shawn Paton, Director, Community Building & Investments, United Way of Pierce County

There is a growing body of evidence that supports the theory that when people eat well, they stay healthier and are better able to control chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease or perhaps avoid them altogether. 

Those who are food insecure are more likely to develop chronic diseases, which means higher health care costs for both insurers and individuals. 

The problem with healthy eating, particularly for those who are food insecure, is that healthy foods are not easily accessible and/or are not affordable. Even for those who have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, some lack the right tools, skills and knowledge to prepare healthy meals.

That's why United Way of Pierce County works with food bank partners, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, Washington State University Extension’s SNAP Ed team and Emergency Food Network for Colorful Cooking Made Easy, a nutrition education program designed to help those who struggle with food insecurity eat healthier. Trained volunteers do cooking demonstrations at food banks with the fresh produce, allowing visitors to try what they have prepared. Food bank visitors are able to watch how easy it is to prepare a healthy meal and possibly try something new. Trained volunteers also teach cooking classes and lead grocery store tours, helping participants with meal planning, shopping on a budget, understanding nutrition and developing cooking skills.

Colorful Cooking Demonstration
Last month, we partnered with a Family and Consumer Science Teacher at Bethel High School and Cooking Matters to host the very first Colorful Cooking 6-week series for students. A trained volunteer leads the class, teaching students cooking skills and nutrition information tailored to fit their interests and needs. Students attending the class will bring home a bag filled with the ingredients for what they prepared in class each week to practice the recipes at home and also promote the healthy eating with family members.

We are looking for opportunities to host Colorful Cooking classes at locations where there is a high need for healthy food and nutrition education but with limited resources, with a focus on caregivers to children from birth-5 years old. This is a crucial developmental stage for young children. Promoting healthy eating with caregivers will have a positive impact on their own health along with creating a healthy food environment for the kids in their care.

To find out more about Colorful Cooking Made Easy, visit our volunteer opportunity site