Times the are a changin’

POWER member meetings will now be held at an earlier time. Instead of Wednesdays from 3:00 PM-5:00 PM, the new meeting time will be from 2:00 PM-4:00 PM. The meetings will still be held at POWER’s office, 309 5th Avenue, next door to Rainy Day Records. 

POWER’s Rural County Needs Assessment is a big success!

Sierra, Jen and I presented our Rural County Needs Assessment to the Thurston Home Consortium on Monday, July 14th.  We got great feedback, Consortium and community members agreed that it was a well-done and informative report.  It sparked a rousing dialogue, which would have continued but for time constraints.

Take a look.  Let us know what you think.


July POWER Outage- Presenting our Rural Thurston County Needs Assessment to the community

Hello all.  We want you to join us as we have a practice run at presenting our report before presenting it to the funders, the Thurston County Home Consortium.  Come see what we’ve been busy at work doing for the last two months!


On the Road 6/21/14

To Heratige Baptist food bank in Tenino and then the Crossroads Church in Yelm

Jen and I arrived in Tenino at 2pm when the Thurston County Food Bank Satellite opened.  It is currently hosted by Heratige Baptist church; they have been operating a satellite for 2 years next month.  Craig Lester, a Tenino city council person, directs the food bank and was eager to increase access to food for low income folks in the area.  He began operating the satellite before he joined city council.

Craig welcomed us and had us sit next to him at the sign in table.  The satellite is set up in a U shape, so recipients come through one at a time to fill up their bags with what veggies and fruits they can use, swing by the canned goods table, choose their meat and dairy options, and are on their merry way.  Craig did us a favor and asked folks signing in to fill out our survey while they were waiting.  The food bank is open for 3 hours, from 2-5 on Saturdays. People trickled in when they could get there and didn’t have to wait too long; the line never exceeded 6 people. 


At the Crossroads church they served chili dogs and various pasta and vegetable salads.  We saw some familiar faces from Yelm – our friends we met at the Emanuel Lutheran dinner as well as a volunteer from Yelm Community Services.  Folks stopped by our table before dishing up, and shared their insights about the needs of the Yelm community.  Two gentlemen who spoke with us but did not fill out a survey told us the state of affairs with homeless shelters in Yelm is inadequate and pathetic.  The person, who repeated the adjective “pathetic” multiple times, said he was proud of the access to food in Yelm and said no one should be going hungry in this town, but was dissatisfied with the access to shelter and wanted to see some major improvements in services for housing people experiencing homelessness.  The second man specified that Cindy of Yelm Community Services needs to let people in to her shelter instead of leaving them empty.  He knows the shelter is there but wants to increase access to it so the shelter is actually serving folks in need and helping them get on their feet.  

A houseless person told us that nicer law enforcement that genuinely cares about people’s safety and would be willing to connect them to resources is what the rural communities need.  This was his first time at the Crossroads dinner, and a few of the volunteers were brainstorming ways they could help him out of the situation he is in.  At the end of the dinner a woman brought him a blanket, a sheet, and $10 she made at a garage sale that day.  

We thanked Pastor Mike for hosting us at their event and allowing us to survey the recipients of this service.  At each of these dinners I go to, it makes me very happy that people are getting together and building community over a meal.  It is so much better than going to a restaurant, where even though you are sharing space with others, you don’t interact with them.  At these dinners there are new faces and new friendships forming every week.  When people get together and support each other, great things can happen, and that’s what I would like to see!

This is one of our last outreach opportunities before the report is due to the Consortium on June 30th.  Time to bunker down and write this report!  Thank you to everyone that has shared their story with us and contributed to this social services assessment.  Your voices will be heard by the consortium, and POWER is ever grateful for the opportunity to get to know you and talk about the importance of meeting the needs of the rural Thurston County community.  

-Sierra and Jen

OUTREACH: Tenino Food Bank PLUS

June 5th, 2014
by Sierra Brown 

Jen and I met bright and early in the parking lot behind the Food Bank on Thursday morning to do outreach in front.  Robin Rudy and staff greeted us and helped us get set up in the lawn so we could offer coffee and ask folks to participate in our social service access survey.  The line to get in wasn’t too large, and people trickled in over the course of two hours.  The Tenino Food Bank Plus is open Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 8:30-10:30.  The only other food bank in Tenino is a Thurston County Food Bank Satellite, operating out of Heratige Baptist church on Saturdays from 2-5pm.  

One mama we talked to said she comes to this food bank when she can, but finds it difficult to work it into her busy schedule.  Her main mode of transportation is borrowing vehicles from her friends, and she is very grateful for the support system she has to help her get to and from work and also run errands such as food bank trips.  When she does not have a vehicle during the Tenino Food Bank Plus hours, she makes her way into Olympia to access the Thurston County Food Bank.  Her mother has an address in Olympia, and she said she would get turned away from TCFB if she gave them her Tenino address.  This is an anecdote of access to social services in rural Thurston County.  Hours of operation and transportation to services are barriers to access. 

We had some good conversations with other food bank recipients and spent a while on the front porch chatting with Robin about Tenino social services and local government politics.  Robin has been working at the food bank for 30 years and is a proud service provider who offers a wide variety of social services for low income and people experiencing homelessness.  She does not believe anyone is falling through the cracks in her town.  The limitations we imagine are people not knowing what kind of help they can receive from the food bank, or being unable to get to the food bank because of lack of transportation.  

After the food bank shut its doors we made our way to Rainier for an interview with Tollie, the director of Sugar N Spice daycare.  We had learned from our contact at CYS who does outreach in Rainier that this daycare is a real hub for families and parents.  The daycare is right next door to the middle school and is centered in the town.

Our final stop for the day was the Yelm Lions Club free dinner.  We arranged to do combined outreach with Cole from CYS.  We saw some familiar faces and met some new folks; we made sure to tell everyone about our ice cream social we are having this coming Monday, June 9th.  One mom we chatted with who came to the dinner with her kids to help clean up was pleasantly surprised to hear about our project and gave us some good ideas about how POWER and CYS can co-organize an event to connect with Yelm youth this summer.  She feels that there aren’t enough healthy activities for young people and she doesn’t feel they know about services available to them while in need.  We didn’t have an opportunity to talk with the director of the dinners, but were glad to be able to meet some of the recipients of this needed service.  


Emanuel Lutheran Chuch, Yelm, WA

Free Dinner

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Prep for the free dinner begins Monday, when a volunteer comes in to get everything ready for Tuesday’s meal.  This week, volunteer food ministry leader scored 2 turkeys from the food bank.   Sierra and I arrived early to help with the final steps of serving this food.  Vi along with other volunteers were busy in the kitchen.  We were quickly put to work:  Sierra carved the turkey while I set-up tables and chairs, laid out the centerpieces (simple: colored sheets of paper with a mismatched salt and pepper shakers).  With all the extra help, there was time to interview the food ministry leader.

The “Dinner with Pastor Jerry” began as an idea expressed by a youth after church one Sunday.  She thought there should be a dinner where everyone was invited to sit and break bread together with Pastor Jerry.  And so was born the Tuesday night dinner.  Scott, the food ministry leader, who also volunteers with other local food banks, including Yelm Prairie Christian and Crossroads, gathers all the food for the dinner.  Tonight, we were having his latest find: a full turkey dinner complete with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and salad.  For dessert, an assortment of pies and cakes were laid out on a separate table.  Scott’s teenage daughter and another youth member served the food to the line of folks, some church members, some people just needing a hot meal, some who come for the company.  It’s a pretty low turnout.  Some nights, they serve almost 70 people.  ON a night like tonight though, plenty of leftovers will be doled out in to-go containers: lunch for tomorrow!

Scott said that what they experience is a “rural setting with urban issues.”  Without the resources that come with being an urban hub, times are tough.  Sometimes, the church can barely pay their electricity bill.  The community has responded well to the work the church prioritizes in the community.  After 10 years of free dinners and other services—the church acts as an unofficial shelter—they’ve only experienced theft or physical violence for the first time this year.   With only 6 beds in Yelm available and stringent eligibility standards, this unofficial shelter has saved lives.

We eat with the group after Pastor Jerry explains why we’re there and blesses the meal.  He said he likes to keep it quick since some folks aren’t there for the prayer.  Many folks filled out surveys and everyone was very welcoming.  They shared with us information about other free meals around town and the best food banks.  Once again, most folks have significant transportation limitations.  A few carpooled there, which is great!  It’s really beautiful to see folks in the community coming together to share time, space and a home-cooked meal.

After dinner and clean-up, Pastor Jerry took us on a tour of the new building, funded by a grant through _______, an emergency shelter and food storage space.  Pastor Jerry would like to work with the Mayor of Yelm to have some sort of law that the codes go out the window in a state of emergency.  My question is this: is it not a state of emergency when people are without food and safe housing?

Thanks, Pastor Jerry for the work that you and your ministry do in our community.  Also, thanks to the Tuesday Night Dinner crew for welcoming us into the safe space you have created where everyone can come together for a meal.


Rainier Emergency Food Center

We packed up the car and left the POWER office before 9:30.  The Mobile CSO office was scheduled to be at the REFC; we were eager to survey the recipients of both food bank services and public assistance applicants.  When we pulled into the parking lot, we went inside the food bank building to speak with the volunteer coordinator.  Nancy greeted us with a warm smile, as well as a few other volunteers.  They got us set up right in front of the entrance door so we could speak with people as they went inside.  

This food bank, as Chris spoke of in our interview, is the closest TCFB satellite to a shopping model.  This means that they have enough space for recipients to walk around to the different food stations and pick out what they want within their allotment.  In Chris’ ideal world, all satellites would have the capacity to replicate the shopping model.  This improves the recipient experience and makes the food bank a much friendlier place to be.  

Our experience with this food bank was certainly friendly.  There was music playing inside and most people were chatting and hanging out until it was their turn in line.  The welcoming atmosphere makes this service provider a more approachable service for folks.  We felt our table was also easily approachable by service recipients.  Many people were eager to voice their experience in our surveys.  We collected 11 Surveys and had multiple friendly conversations with both recipients and volunteers (or their husbands).  

After the food bank was closed we helped load all of the food back into storage.  The next day they opened would be Saturday, so they needed to sort out what fruits and vegetables would last that long and get rid of what was going bad.  They sent both Jen and I home with plenty of bananas and cantaloupe that would have been tossed.  

After each distribution day the volunteers gather for a potluck meal in the warehouse.  We learned that the volunteers are working hard seven days a week to distribute food to allies they have partnerships with, as well as pick up donations and stock their storage with both perishable and non-perishable goods.  We ate lunch with them and celebrated two birthdays of volunteers.  They told us about the needs of the REFC as well as what other organizations they work closely with to distribute food to the greater Thurston Community.  


May 15, 2012

Letter from the road…Yelm

The tension in Yelm is palpable.  Hundreds of people visited the food bank at Yelm Community Services between 1PM and 4PM on Thursday.  The staff was incredibly helpful after they learned we were not taking any photographs or contact information…“not making people feel uncomfortable.”  They set up a table for us, close to where folks line up to receive their food for the month.  We collected about 2 dozen surveys…many people were hesitant to talk or have their views recorded in the survey.  Once again, we were mistaken for some other group who has surveyed service recipients here in the past.  Someone expressed disenchantment with the type of work we are doing; she’s been surveyed many times before, but with no change.  A few folks in line tried to maintain cheerfulness: one man played guitar and sang classic rock and country songs while others chatted in lawn chairs they had brought.  Most people stood quietly, waiting for the food bank to open.

Signage around the food bank warned to the effect of: “Taking anything left outside is theft and criminals will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” “no loitering,” and more.  Meanwhile, an hour before the food bank opened, emergency food assistance recipients lined up on the far side of the parking lot with assigned numbers—Yelm Community Services staffers keep a tight ship.  Every piece of candy was accounted for, yet they were pushing the rotting cabbage, hard.  Numbers were called and the people rushed over to fill their shopping carts.  One woman, who used to live on my street, hung back and spoke with us.   She worried that the director would realize she’d already been to the food bank this month (apparently, it’s only one visit per month).  The place is pretty chaotic for the better part of the 3 hours.  Many people were happy to share their feelings on services provided.  Once again, even in Yelm, adequate transportation is lacking, along with other services such as mental health, substance abuse counseling, and dental.

Something we will explore more in Yelm is the allegation that the city council is attacking service providers in the community.  They are involved in a lawsuit with Yelm Prarie Christian, which operates a food bank.  Apparently, the church is in violation of building code/zoning laws and so the city charged them $250 per day from the months of March, 2013 through November, 2013, and possibly continues to do so today.  The city is suing the church, who continues to do “the lord’s work.”  You can read about it at:


If this is true, there seems to be a huge disconnect in what some members of the city government want and what actually plays out in these communities.  Yelm Prairie Christian staff refused to comment, due to the sensitivity of the situation and has declined an interview with us.

We’ll be back in Yelm for the free dinner at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Tuesday, May 27, 2014 at 6 PM.  Hope to see you there!

Jen and Sierra


Sierra, Jen and the lovely Rochester sunshine…

Our outreach event at the ROOF (Rochester Organization of Families) food bank was a huge success.  With the warm sun shining, the friendly ROOF staff, and our allies at SafePlace also performing outreach, we couldn’t have asked for a better day.  ROOF is the home of one of Rochester’s two food banks, after school programs, emergency services and a (very much under-utilized) community garden.  We had an appointment with the director, Kelly, first thing in the morning, but due to an emergency situation (someone’s house burned down!), we just spent that time connecting with our new friends at SafePlace and setting up our lovely table.

We collected about a dozen surveys and made first contact with a few folks with whom we’d like to continue dialogue.  Many people are very disenchanted with the current system of social services, the gaps of which are acutely felt by all.  The social securityand DSHS.  Quite a few people who filled out our surveys have trouble acquiring food assistance because of (miniscule) social security disbursements.  How can anyone be expected to survive on $400 a month?  After rent, bills, food, transportation and all the other expenses of living in a capitalist society, there’s just not enough money to even get by.

Another huge service missing in Rochester is transportation.  Though disabled persons can schedule a door-to-door bus service, this must be done weeks in advance and still leaves countless people stranded.  Gabrielle from ROOF noted in our interview with her that many people move to rural areas because the cost of living seems to be cheaper, but don’t account for how they will access services they need.  What a dilemma: either live in Olympia where rent is grossly unaffordable, but services such as transportation and proximity to service providers exist; or, move to the country where rent might be affordable, but you’ll be stranded if you need to get to the mobile CSO to sign-up for food stamps or the soup kitchen on Tuesdays or even the food bank.  Forget about maintaining a garden plot at the community garden…that’s a trip each day that seems impossible with no car or no money for gas.  Our new friend, “Mean Jane,” and her daughter Liz had quite the story that just goes to show how poverty can happen to anyone.  30 years ago, Jane delivered boxes of homegrown produce to churches and food banks in Rochester. Now, with a pittance of a social security check and no food assistance, she’s still a regular at the food bank, but on the other side of the counter.  What stares us in the face is how poverty affects the most vulnerable among us, how we could all be there one day, either like Esther, once very much independent and self-sustaining, now limited by her aged body, or Tom, certified Mensa, whose body is paralyzed on the left side due to a head injury he sustained when he was 28 (my age).

Tom introduced us to something of which neither Sierra nor I had ever heard: self-help housing.  The USDA, through their rural development program, has a loan program for low and very-low income people who want to own their own homes.  Tom lives in a self-help housing community where families purchased land together and built each other’s homes and grow a lot of their own food.  We still need to research this more, but more information about this program can be found here.

Another striking encounter was with a family who visited the food bank at the end of the day.  They’ve been camping for the last 3 weeks and have found a place in Rochester where they can afford the rent, but are having trouble coming up with the money for the deposit.  They are currently $150 short and have already tapped every service they know of, including the Family Housing Center.  I hardly know what to say, but I hope this project helps these people in some way, or at least helps future families who are homeless because they don’t have the money for a rental deposit.

It’s pretty heavy, what these people carry.  The least we can do is to listen long enough to hear their voices.  We have immense gratitude to everyone who spoke up…they truly make this project a success.

Until next time,

Jen and Sierra