I feel blessed to be a member of the Olympia Food Co-op, not only for the good food and other products I can purchase for myself, but also because of the integrity demonstrated almost daily by how it operates in our community. This past year I have personally experienced and observed the way OFC continues to be motivated by and uphold its Mission Statement. Our founders made clear from the beginning that the purpose of the Co-op is to “contribute to the health and well-being of people,” to “strive to make human effects on the earth and its inhabitants positive and renewing and to encourage economic and social justice.” These values are just as strongly upheld now as they were when the Co-op was first formed, perhaps even more-so as our strength in the community has grown.
In the winter of 2013, along with my friend and fellow Co-op member Julia, I was gifted with the opportunity to volunteer several nights at the Interfaith Works Women’s Emergency Overflow Shelter housed at the First Christian Church in downtown Olympia. We asked for and received funds several times from Grace Cox through the donations program that the Co-op sets aside for just such purposes, and with them created several good hot meals for the women who were housed there.
Over the past year, Interfaith Works, a consortium of faith organizations in the area, has been working diligently to create an expanded year-round home for some of the men and women of our homeless population. Opening in November of 2014, they were able to serve the most vulnerable part of our community in a remodeled shelter in the basement of the First Christian Church in Olympia. While it is not yet what was originally planned, it is now serving some 30+ of our community’s most vulnerable homeless members with a warm bed every night (their name right on the bed), a place to store their most valuable possessions, trained staff to field any difficulties and direct them to community resources, and a volunteer staff of kind-hearted folks who stay at the shelter evenings from 5-10 PM to help facilitate the smooth running of the shelter. There are no shower facilities, and no cooking kitchen, but volunteers are occasionally bringing in what food they can round up for the shelter, using hot plates and crock pots to keep it hot until it is consumed. And it all is, quite gratefully, by the men and women who are fortunate enough to be housed there.
Julia and I, who love cooking soup together, have joined that wonderful volunteer staff on several occasions in the evening, bringing with us more hot soup to feed the residents. Once again, Grace has helped us with funds from the Co-op donations program to make these soups, further completing the Co-op mission to “support efforts to foster a socially and economically egalitarian society,” and “assist in the development of local community resources.” See what I mean?
Then recently, I thought to ask Kim Langston, Erin Majors and Tina Schubert at the Westside produce department if we could have some of their culled produce that was headed for the 4,000 PLU bin. Over the past couple of months, Julia and I have received from them two large contributions of these veggies which we have used to create some very tasty and nutritious soups for the shelter.
Excitement for our adventure has caught on in the produce departments of both Eastside and Westside stores, with several good ideas coming forth that could enable Co-op Members to join in the effort to bring at least one hot meal a day to the shelter’s residents. One idea is to encourage members to purchase a gift card, with whatever amount they would like to offer, to be taken to the Shelter Director, Meg Martin, and be distributed to volunteers who are signed up to cook a meal.
Currently, hot food comes to the shelter with irregularity and no guarantee of being available on any given evening. At the time of this writing, the organization and coordination of a soup-making project with shelter volunteers is still germinating, supported by the held vision of a more regular and dependable flow of good nutritious food for our less-fortunate community members.
If you are interested in helping out with food at the shelter, or would like more information on Co-op gift cards, please contact Desdra Dawning at Desdradawning@yahoo.com.
There are many ways that we are all able to support the shelter. Cooking for it is one way. Volunteering to share a few hours of your evening with them is another, or donating food, clothing, blankets, first aid and other items. (Look for their Wish List at www.iwshelter.org). Along with the Co-op, many generous folks have already given of their time and resources to help the shelter. They are shining examples of what can be accomplished in a community when people come together in cooperation.
Of course, none of this puts an immediate end to homelessness, but in the meantime, hearts and minds open, a deeper conversation about the growing situation ensues, and at least some people will make it through winter in Olympia with a little better sense of well-being.
By Desdra Dawning