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


On the Road with the Rural County Needs Assessment

May 8th, 2014

Letter from the road

Jen and Sierra here…just getting geared up for many weeks of outreach in rural Thurston County!

Today, we set up a booth at Bailey’s IGA in Rochester during the mobile CSO event, which was scheduled from 9-noon.  We were hoping to survey the folks who would be utilizing their unit.  We brought both English and Spanish printed surveys, thank-you letters with information about the Rural Needs Assessment project, and POWER brochures.  Hot coffee and friendly smiles enticed __ people to come and complete our survey, a great success!

The rain fell hard as we set-up the booth and the parking lot at IGA seemed to be a pretty low-traffic place at that particular time of day.  A minor vehicle collision (someone’s giant pick-up truck kicked itself out of gear and rolled into our car…yes, this happened!) spiced things up early on; however, we were able to work multiple survey responses into the compensation package.  The folks involved were very thankful for the work we are doing in the area, “it needs it,” one person noted.

We also witnessed some deep interest in the project.  One woman (Karen) mentioned she couldn’t “get started on her soap box…or [she’d] be there all day.”  We sent her home with a survey and information about the project.  We look forward to hearing from her to schedule an interview!  Another person, Mark, mentioned that though he and his wife do not use social services, she is a caregiver for the elderly and serves as a resource for linking people with services in the area.  We gave Mark a survey and our contact information; we believe his wife would be an invaluable person with whom to speak about key needs in the community.

Another mission we had was to engage the mobile CSO staff and organize some collaboration at future events.  Concerned about the low turn-out, we asked about promotion of the events.  One staff member told us they contact the local business in the areas where they are scheduled and send them flyers to post on windows and bulletin boards.  The mobile CSO website states that priority is given to community partners who agree to promote the event.  Although we couldn’t find a flyer on the IGA bulletin board, we hope to help promote future events in our target areas.  When Sierra suggested to the CSO staff members on duty that we collaborate for future events in our area, one staff member suggested we use their Facebook page.  Upon visiting the Facebook page, we noted it is seemingly under-utilized and updated with event details at the very last minute.  We hope to connect with them in future and brainstorm ideas to make their visits more effective.

At the end of the day, we visited ROOF, Rochester Organization of Families, to connect with their staff and set-up appointments for interviews.  We also scheduled our next outreach event at the ROOF Food Bank on Monday, May 12, from 9:30 AM until noon.

We are very excited to be engaging people in our rural communities!  We felt the need for this work so very acutely during our event yesterday.  If nothing else, giving people space to voice their concerns, their experiences and their wisdom about how these services help (or fail) them in their day-to-day.  Many, many thanks to all the folks who came out and spoke up!

See you soon,

Jen and Sierra

POWER’s Mother’s Day cards Sale!

POWER will again be selling Mother’s Day cards that feature the art of local artists. The cards shown below will be available for sale until the 7th of May. If you would like to purchase a card or cards, you can go to the POWER office at 309 5th Ave SE Olympia, WA, next to Rainy Day Records. You can also place an order on our website at 

2014 Option:


 2010 Option:



March POWER Outage 3/3/2014

Monday, March 3, 2014, 5:30pm – 8:00pm

Darby’s Café in downtown Olympia, 211 5th Avenue

Join us at the next POWER Outage on March 3rd for a Resource Roundtable and potluck! We will be sharing the many creative ways we’ve found to live well on a limited budget. As low-income people, we have a collective wealth of knowledge about how to make money last and meet the needs of our families without using money. We also know how to have fun on the cheap. Let’s get together to share our ideas and maybe brainstorm some new ones. We will take notes on these ideas, which may later be compiled into a pamphlet for POWER to give out.


Topics will include:


-Budgeting: How do you keep track of spending and make that check last through the month?

-Food: Do you have tips on where to shop for what? Do you have recipes for your Food Bank groceries? What do you eat at the end of the month/ when food is running low?

-Non-food items: Where do you get your clothes, shampoo, and baby supplies? Do you have recipes for homemade beauty/ cleaning products?

-Holidays: What do you do to make birthdays and other holidays special? What are some low-cost family traditions?

Please bring if want to: A potluck dish you made with low-cost ingredients (and recipe!), Food Bank recipes, examples of your budget tracking system, ideas for cheap home products you can make, and maybe samples if you wish to share.

Bring your wonderful self, kids, family and friends!

Childcare will be provided at the POWER office by the Child Care Collective

Darby’s is closed, but they kindly let us use the space in downtown Olympia, 211 5thAvenue.

January 2014 POWER Outage

Taking place on the 6th of January at Darby’s Cafe in Downtown Olympia will be POWER’s monthly POWER Outage. At this Outage, members will have the opportunity to make signs for the annual MLK Day March to the Capitol, develop POWER’s campaign, and go over the plan for the day of the march. As always, childcare will be available at POWER’s office, and the Outage will start with a potluck at Darby’s.