Any given Wednesday is a busy day at Spokane Valley Partners, 10814 E. Broadway Ave. Cars pack into the parking lot of the former church, their drivers waiting inside the auditorium patiently until their numbers are called.
Clients go through the food bank and wander through the lobby to find information about social services. There is a dentist’s office in the basement, Grins and Giggles, which offers discounts for cash payments and payment plans. There is a WIC clinic and a branch of SNAP as well, all under the roof of an organization incorporated in 1990.
In these tough economic times, Spokane Valley Partners is striving to help those in need, and that need is growing.
For new mother Kayvasha Lyghts, 21, the organization had helped her family through tough times before when she was younger. They visited the clothing bank and the food bank. She attended an after-school program to get caught up with her school work.
Now that she has her own daughter, 3-month-old Kahmia, Lyghts is on maternity leave and needing help to make ends meet. She visited the food bank by herself for the first time last month. She’s hoping to go to school to become a surgical technician someday.
“They’ve been very helpful,” she said of SVP. “They’re always nice.”
Not only has the organization helped her with food and clothing, she’s also connected with SNAP for emergency energy assistance.
“We’re serving about 1,000 families a month,” said Ken Briggs, chief executive officer of the organization. “There is a lot of overlap. People will use the food bank and they’ll also use the clothing bank. While they’re here they may need energy assistance, they may have an appointment with SNAP. They may have a dental appointment. You’re going to bunch up as much as you can. Gas is expensive.”
That bunching may include a trip to ChangePoint.
“Our ChangePoint Fellowship upstairs is really focused on job preparation, interview skills, how to dress for an interview, how to write your résumé. Finding out what barriers people have to being employed or fully employed and addressing those issues,” Briggs said.
This fits the organization’s mission to not only help those in need, but sustain them and improve their quality of life.
Food Bank Director Connie Nelson said her branch of Spokane Valley Partners is not only dedicated to providing healthy food for those in need, but is now in the process of starting Common Ground Gardens, a 2 ½-acre plot of land to be a community garden near Valley Mission Park.
The garden will have four goals: increase access to nutritious food for families in the Valley; promote urban agriculture as a vehicle to boost family incomes; provide micro-enterprise activities for young people in the area; and reduce SVP food bank’s dependence on outside food vendors.
Nelson is planning raised garden beds for community members in wheelchairs, a farmers market for participants to sell what they grow, and a place for the community to gather and get to know each other.
She compared this idea to the Victory Gardens, a popular way to supplement food rations during World War II.
Briggs added, “During the Second World War, Americans were growing more than half of their own food.”
The organization also is working to teach its clients how to can and preserve food. Briggs said it wasn’t that long ago when families relied on preserving and canning to sustain themselves through the leaner, colder months.
SVP recently acquired $100,000 in state funds for capital projects. Along with repairing the roof, adding a fire suppression system to the warehouse, and fixing the parking lot, Briggs hopes to remodel the kitchen, allowing canning and preserving classes to be added the food bank’s list of cooking classes.
“It’s a big deal,” Nelson said of the garden project, expected to begin in 2012. “It’s a very big deal for us.”
But it’s not just the food and clothing banks that are busy:
• Grins and Giggles is expanding to other community centers in Spokane.
• The children’s theater group, Theater Arts for Children, is still producing plays.
• The SNAP office is providing not only energy assistance, but financial advice and small business advice.
• Hearth Homes provides women and children in need of emergency housing with a place to stay.
• The WIC clinic is one of seven in the county and serves up to 20 appointments an hour, helping women have healthy pregnancies and getting children off to a nutritionally good start.
“They’ve been such an important part to so many people’s lives,” Briggs said.
There is also a new organization in the basement of SVP, Likii Tender Hearts, run by Lucy Kigano, who supports a small village in Kenya with the sale of fair trade crafts at area churches. The proceeds go back to the village.
The Valleyfest office is still in SVP and is gearing up for the big event in September.
Nursing students visit the building on Wednesdays, providing health screenings, blood pressure checks, glucose tests and advice on quitting smoking.
“Basic kind of family doctor stuff that a lot of people don’t have access to,” Briggs said.
He said it’s the volunteers who keep SVP operational. Although the organization gets about 27,000 to 28,000 hours in volunteer time a year, it is always looking for more volunteers and donations.
“They are the heart of this organization,” Briggs said. “They make it happen. It very much is their organization. This organization belongs to our community.”