As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through Washington State, City of Tenino leadership, including Mayor Wayne Fournier, sought out creative methods to help Tenino residents and storefronts through the pandemic’s unprecedented economic challenges. Resurrecting a depression-era currency program, the City of Tenino implemented the COVID-19 recovery grant, a program that includes the distribution of wooden money to help stimulate the local economy.
“It was evident to everyone in Tenino leadership from the beginning that there would be far reaching economic and personal hardships as a result of the pandemic and associated quarantine,” says Fournier.
In the months since the program’s inception, the story of Tenino’s wooden money has captured headlines across the nation and around the world, inviting a larger conversation on the use of local currency to help community members in need.
In the early 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, there was a shortage of currency across the United States, and the City of Tenino was no exception. To help offset the demand for physical tender, Tenino leadership funded a currency of their own, created from wood. Now, in 2020, Tenino’s COVID-19 recovery grant is based on the depression-era program, but has been retrofitted to work for the modern day.
Backed by the city’s budget, Tenino residents who are in need and have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can receive up to $300 per month in wooden scrip, redeemable at participating local establishments, including Hedden’s Pharmacy, Los Compadres Mexican Restaurant, Tenino Massage and The Sandstone Café.
Fournier says that the implementation of the COVID-19 relief grant has been a rollercoaster due to the program’s local and national popularity. “We’ve had a great response from the community,” says Fournier. “Several people have received assistance and a lot of our businesses have received wooden dollars. But it has been the response from outside the city that been the most the biggest surprise.”
From the program’s announcement, the story of Tenino’s wooden money has put the small Thurston County community in the spotlight, drawing headlines across the nation and around the world. From radio stations in New Zealand, to Reuters, several major news outlets turned to the City of Tenino for its unique means of supporting residents and the local economy.
In a podcast interview with Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier, Bloomberg Media covered the currency program’s past, present and future. Eric Johnson, from Seattle’s KOMO News covered the story as a segment for Eric’s Heroes. CNN overviewed the historical and cultural context of Tenino’s wooden currency. CBS Sunday Morning sat down with Fournier and additional Tenino residents who are recipients of the city’s wooden currency program.
After reports of Tenino’s wooden currency spread across the state and the nation, other cities have been interested in adopting similar programs to help residents in need, including the city of Centralia, who has dedicated $50,000 of the city’s CARES Act funds to support their own local currency.
“To see other cities mimicking our program is exciting,” says Fournier. “Our staff and council feel like we are making a difference in the world during tough times.”
Leadership from two major West Coast cities, Portland and San Francisco, have also reached out to Fournier, exploring the concept of a “Cascadia Dollar,” a localized currency program expanded for larger metropolitan areas. “For Portland, the concept that is being proposed is that the city work with their large farmers market community to issue emergency scrip that is redeemable through the farmers markets,” explains Fournier. “It would then support local agriculture and could be circulated throughout that community.”
As the wooden currency sparks inspiration for neighboring and far away communities, Tenino’s wooden currency is here to stay for the remainder of the current pandemic. Fournier says this through the implementation of this wooden currency program, a view of the past has helped to best navigate the present situation. For Fournier, this COVID-19 recovery grant has been an exploration and a celebration of what makes Tenino a one-of-a-kind community. “It feels great to see Tenino serve as an example to the nation and world for being a community that is creatively fighting its way through a crisis” says Fournier. “We’ve had stories run in media all over the globe, on every continent and in numerous languages. I believe that the story of Tenino has inspired people globally to be bold and take initiative to make changes locally instead of wait for help.”
To learn more about the Tenino’s COVID-19 recovery grant (wooden currency program), or for a full list of participating establishments, visit the City of Tenino website.