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

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