The holiday season is a time to focus on kindness, community, and charity. But for Olympia High School senior Gracie Anderson, these values have guided her entire life.
During her sophomore year, Anderson launched Food for Our Future (FFOF), a nonprofit organization that feeds homeless and low-income children in the Chehalis School District over the weekends. Food for Our Future hosts bagging sessions in the Greater Chehalis Food Bank on certain Wednesday evenings. There, volunteers help prepare bags full of meal staples and snacks for elementary school students to take for the weekend.
In the Chehalis School District, Anderson explains, over half of students receive free or reduced-price lunches. And, students who receive these services during the school week often have no guarantee of food over the weekend. Food for Our Future, and the Chehalis community support that greeted its inception, have stepped up to fill this need.
“I had the idea and then so many amazing community members came together to make it happen,” says Anderson. “Chehalis is such a warm, tight-knit community, and from the start we felt endless support from all over the area.” The Greater Chehalis Food Bank provides FFOF with space to store food and host bagging sessions, and many churches and community organizations have donated to the cause.
Anderson says she was inspired by her time volunteering with the Olympia-based organization Homeless Backpacks. “I really liked their model and program. At the same time, my mom, who works as a mental health counselor in the Chehalis School District, would tell me what things were like for kids in her school. I really felt motivated to create change in that community.” She began her mission to bring a Homeless Backpacks-like service to the district in 2015.
Initially, one of the biggest challenges in founding the nonprofit was a lack of resources. “We were very much starting from scratch,” Anderson recalls. “We had a little bit to go off of based on Homeless Backpacks, but Chehalis is so different from the area Homeless Backpacks is serving, so we had to figure out how to adapt the program.” Anderson and her family contacted the owner of the Greater Chehalis Food Bank for some preliminary meetings that spanned several months and were given the space to operate. At the nonprofit’s very first bagging event there were five to 10 volunteers in attendance, the people Anderson describes as the “core group” that had been involved with FFOF from the start.
Since then, Food for Our Future has blossomed. “At our last bagging, we had at least 30 volunteers show up to help,” Anderson says. “So there’s been a lot of change and a lot of growth!” Food for Our Future began with bagging enough food for 20 students, for a week at a time. At the last session, volunteers were able to prepare a month’s worth of food for 70 students.
“So many people in the community were wanting to get together and help and I’m so glad Food for Our Future has become a place where they can do that,” says Anderson. It is heartening and inspiring to see the difference that this student-driven program is making in the community. At their core, both Anderson and her organization are driven by empathy, compassion, and a genuine desire to serve others.
It is an incredible achievement for a high school student to launch her own nonprofit with such an amazing community impact. Anderson is quick to note, however, that FFOF “has always been a family affair.” Her father is in charge of purchasing the food using donated funds. Her mother and aunt pass out bags and coordinate the logistics of bagging sessions. Her grandparents drive her to Chehalis to be present for bagging. “I’m really lucky to be part of a family of people that cares so much about helping others,” says Anderson. “The reason I started Food for Our Future was because I was raised in that culture. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
For those looking to get involved with FFOF for the holiday season, a list of needed foods and information about bagging sessions can be found on the organization’s Facebook page. Donations can be coordinated by contacting Gracie at email@example.com. While monetary donations, says Anderson, are preferable because they are more versatile, “we appreciate anything and everything we can get.”
The winter can be a tough time for struggling families. But organizations like Food for Our Future, led by bright, compassionate students like Anderson, bring more warmth (and full bellies!) into the world even as the temperatures drop.