Hunger exists all over the world. And, it’s here in our backyard, too.

Last year the Thurston County Food Bank (TCFB) served 15,500 families, amounting to 52,000 individuals – half of these were children. In fact, the total number of visits to the food bank grew to 395,000 in 2016. These alarming numbers clearly show a need for more help in our community.

thurston county food bank donation
The Thurston County Food Bank is busier than ever, growing at a rate of 8 percent annually. A new Lacey Food Bank will help spread the services, and food, throughout the region.

That’s why Lacey City Council, North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS) and the Lacey South Sound Chamber of Commerce have partnered to build a new Lacey Food Bank as their first “Compassionate Community” project. North Thurston Public Schools will be doing their part by launching a “Make a Change” coin drive. The drive will happen in all 22 schools in the district throughout the school year, starting as early as November.

“Our client numbers continue to grow each year, currently at about 8 percent,” said Robert Coit, executive director of the Thurston County Food Bank. “More importantly, the number of visits is increasing by twice that rate. With the addition of the Lacey Food Bank we hope to take some of the pressure off of our downtown location, expand our service hours and create new partnerships. Our plan is to provide a more comprehensive service, using everything we have learned over the years distributing food at our Olympia location to create the best possible food bank in Lacey.”

While TCFB has several partnering satellite food pantries that operate in Lacey, hours and products are limited. Coit adds that about 19 percent of the households they serve are in the Lacey area, so it made sense to grow service there.

Make a Change Drive

The coin drive is part of the Charter for Compassion International started in the NTPS in 2014. The school district distributed hundreds of wooden compassion “coins” to students who witnessed compassionate acts and asked them to pay it forward.

NTPS Coin Drive, 2017
The new Lacey Food Book is the first project for the Charter for Compassion International that the school district, city and chamber joined in 2014. Photo credit: North Thurston Public Schools

They also co-hosted a Compassionate Community Forum with citizens of all ages, soliciting ways to be a more compassionate community. Every month they honor employees at “Compassion All-Stars.” From the schools, the initiative spread to the City of Lacey, who hosts compassion awards; and most recently the Lacey South Sound Chamber, who had businesses “take the compassion pledge” last year and receive a decal for their business.

For NTPS, this is a project that hits close to home. About 40 percent of North Thurston students receive free/reduce meals and at least four schools have a rate over 60 percent. “We hope this partnership helps to support and foster ideas that will engage students in community service in a way that promotes education, problem solving and community connections,” said Dr. Debra Clemens, Superintendent of North Thurston Public Schools.

“Hunger can become an invisible issue,” said Coit. “We often forget how common it is in our community. More importantly, we lose sight of the impact hunger has on the success of children in school and on the parents who are worried about where they will find the resources for the next meal at home.”

The goal for the school district is to raise $10,000 during the school year with the coin drives. That comes out to about $500 a school, something they will hopefully surpass. You can check with each individual schools to see when they will be running their coin drive. And while it’s called a “coin drive,” they glad accept bills as well. For more information, visit the North Thurston Public School District website.

NTPS Coin Drive
The North Thurston Public Schools Make a Change Coin Drive will happen at every school in the district throughout the 2017-18 school year. Photo credit: North Thurston Public Schools

“The coin drive is important for both support for the food bank and engaging students in supporting folks in their community,” said Graeme Sackrison, vice president of North Thurston Public Schools Board of Directors and the incoming president of the Lacey South Sound Chamber. “It provides an opportunity for lessons about interdependence. We are a community and we need to support each other.”

Each school will be supplied with big wall thermometers, coin jugs and coin counters. The schools will all be running the drives at different times, depending on any other fundraisers they may be having. Some may run the drive just for a couple weeks, others all year long. At the end of the school year, everyone will tally up the total raised.

Additionally the City of Lacey will be holding their own coin drive with employees. “The Lacey Food Bank will help fulfill a critical need for our most-vulnerable,” said Scott Spence, Lacey City Manager. “To further support this goal, City of Lacey public employees will participate in a food challenge to raise funds for the building’s construction. Additionally, the City of Lacey utility will provide an opportunity for utility customers to voluntarily donate through the monthly billing process.”

The New Lacey Food Bank

NTPS garden
The Veterans Garden will be a community garden project created in partnership with GRuB. Photo credit: North Thurston Public Schools

The new food bank will be located at 7027 Martin Way East, a site that is accessible to public transportation and will be barrier free. The total project budget is $2 million dollars divided into three phases. Current fundraising efforts, including grants, has reached the $800,000 benchmark. The three phases are:

  1. A community garden program in partnership with GRuB, called the “Veterans’ Garden.”
  2. A farmers market open on Saturdays distributing donated produce to low and moderate-income households.
  3. The Lacey Food Bank, a 12,000 sq. foot building distributing food mirroring best practices used at the downtown Client Services Center. The facility will be open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to compliment the hours of operation at the downtown building. After opening, it is expected to serve 400 families each week.

As a kick-off for the project, the Lacey Chamber of Commerce will be holding their Compassion Forum on December 6 at noon during their regular Forum time at Saint Martin’s University. Robert Coit will be speaking.

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