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Stories from the Harvest: July 2022

A moment with Lucy Smartwitlo  |  A Volunteer Love Story  |  KHQ #FoodBucketChallenge  |  Employee Spotlight

A moment with Lucy Smartwitlo – Executive Director of Peacekeeper Society

“I walked down the country roads with my mom picking up cans so we can…get money for food.”

At the age of 5 or 6 I can remember waiting in the Commodity Foods line with my mom and older sister. I was excited to hold the big block of cheese that we received and not as excited to see the box of powdered milk. I also remember the times I walked down the country roads with my mom picking up cans so we can recycle them to get money for food. When we didn’t have a lot of food and I was hungry, my mom told me to make tortillas and cheese, which is now one of my favorite comfort foods. At the time I thought this was normal. Now, as an adult, I realize that not being able to afford food for yourself or your family impacts everyone in your community. I know how it feels to worry what the next meal will be. How to make your money stretch paycheck to paycheck. To stand in long lines and be served by someone that doesn’t look like you. I know how hard it is to seek support to feed your family without feeling guilt or shame.

Now, my organization Peacekeeper Society serves the community food and I still see the long lines. We serve 200+ families in the community on average per drive-thru distribution days that we host at least twice a month. We see elders, brothers, sisters and mothers with their children and pets in the car. It’s not uncommon to have 3-4 households in one vehicle. As an organization, we realize that it’s not enough and I’m humbled by the reminder of the need for food security within the Yakima Valley.

We rely heavily on our community volunteers to help us make our drive-thru food distribution days possible. As an organization we couldn’t do the work we do without having the community involved and who better to serve our community than our own people? Through our collaboration with Northwest Harvest, not only are we able to serve our community, but distribute diverse types of foods, too.

We still have a long way to go to ensure that every household in our area has food. In the meantime, Peacekeeper Society will continue to provide what they can to “Protect & Feed everyone.”

A Volunteer Love Story

We are thrilled to share a story about two volunteers at the Kent warehouse.

In October 2016, Drew began volunteering at our Kent facility.  Drew hopped around, volunteering at a few different organizations, and settled on Northwest Harvest because “Northwest Harvest had, by far, the friendliest people” and he felt a strong connection to our mission.  Three months later, Lian walked in the door finding Northwest Harvest through work. Wanting to give back to her community, Lian felt especially drawn to how far-reaching Northwest Harvest is, helping communities not just in the Kent area but across Washington state. Drew continued to make the long commute from Redmond every week to pack peas and potatoes alongside this new volunteer.  Then in March of 2017, as they walked to their vehicles, surrounded by asphalt and cars whizzing by on 68th Avenue, Drew asked Lian out on a date.

Volunteering for Northwest Harvest had a big impact on their lives, not only because of the work they did, but because it’s where their love story began.  Five years after Drew drummed up the courage to ask Lian to be his girlfriend in the parking lot, they were married on April 30, 2022.

Congrats, Lian and Drew! We couldn’t be happier to be a part of your story.

KHQ #FoodBucketChallenge

Northwest Harvest is partnering with KHQ to host the virtual #FoodBucketChallenge through August 15 to support food security across Washington State. KHQ in Spokane and their affiliate stations in Yakima, Tri-Cities, and Spokane are raising summer funds for Northwest Harvest to source locally produced foods to serve residents all over the state, and we invite you to participate! Take a video of yourself “taking a shot” into any makeshift basket.

Check out the links below to see folks all over Washington earning funds to support equitable food access across the state:

Employee Spotlight

Meet Senight, our Public Benefits Outreach Specialist – a role at Northwest Harvest focused on bolstering community voices and eliminating barriers in accessing public programs.

Senight is finding newfound growth and opportunity in her role as she launches this summer’s listening sessions, a programed designed to speak with people with lived experience directly about the hardships they face and champion for systemic change in Washington through legislation.

“The purpose is to hear from people with lived experiences.  Using their output and identifying barriers and having their testimony speak to bills that can address those barriers.  We are here to harness their power.”

Growing up with immigrant parents has been a powerful driving force behind her work at Northwest Harvest. Now, she can help others who face similar challenges and advocate for change through these listening sessions.  Her advice: “Remind yourself that you are not the only one.  You do belong. Your role does matter. You are the expert here. Talk to yourself like you would talk to your friend.”

Follow our advocacy efforts and find out more about the Listening Sessions by subscribing to our advocacy alerts.