Spokane Valley Partners is debt-free after a mortgage burning ceremony earlier this year made possible by an anonymous donor who paid the last $198,000 that the nonprofit organization owed.
“We did a formal ceremony,” said Spokane Valley Partners CEO Cal Coblentz. “We torched it.”
There was even a champagne toast. The Spokane Valley mayor was there, as were the pastors of Opportunity Presbyterian Church and Spokane Valley United Methodist Church. “Those two churches were the kingpin churches of our organization,” he said. “We had a lot of church members here. It was a lot of fun.”
Spokane Valley Partners, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, was founded by nine churches that had a common mission to help the poor. They pooled their resources to start the organization, which later became an independent 501(c)3.
The organization took out a mortgage to buy the former Spokane Valley Church of the Nazarene at 10814 E. Broadway Ave. more than 15 years ago. The 33,000-square-foot building houses a food bank, a clothing and diaper bank and also serves as a home to several other small nonprofits, including SNAP, Valleyfest and Baskets for Babies. Ignite! Community Theater also calls the building home.
“This is a momentous thing, paying off a mortgage,” Coblentz said. “We are debt-free. That is a wonderful feeling.”
Coblentz said Spokane Valley Partners helps about 40,000 people a year through its programs, including 1,000 families who use the food bank each month. The food bank is the second largest in Spokane County.
“We have all of Spokane County east of the (Spokane) city limits,” he said.
The nonprofit also has a Food For Thought program that provides weekend food for 500 students in need in 22 Spokane Valley schools. Volunteers also deliver food from the food bank to elderly residents who can’t pick it up themselves.
The erasure of the monthly mortgage payment happened at a good time, as the organization has taken on new programs that it does not have funding for. Last year the board of Inland Northwest Baby approached Coblentz to see if his organization would take over its diaper bank. The nonprofit was founded by a teenager who has since gone to college and left the area.
Spokane Valley Partners now buys diapers from Huggies at wholesale prices. The diapers are distributed through 17 agencies, including Transitions, Head Start and Catholic Charities. Every month each agency tells Coblentz how many diapers they want in what size and he buys them.
“We give it all to them for nothing,” he said.
Right now there’s no revenue for the program, but Spokane Valley Partners is now the only member of the National Diaper Bank Network in Eastern Washington and the need is critical, Coblentz said. They gave away 15,000 diapers last month.
“We knew it was a liability and knew it would cost us money, but we couldn’t see that going away,” he said.
The organization has also just started a Food for Thought summer program for 56 teenagers who are homeless that attend Central Valley and West Valley schools. “I don’t know if it’s ever been done before,” he said. “We were able to pull this all together before school let out.”
Each student in the program gets a free summer youth bus pass paid for by Giving Back Packs and the Greater Spokane Food Truck Association Gives Back. “Now they can go anywhere to get whatever they need,” he said. “Mostly it was about getting them to the food.”
Food bank volunteers have stashed bags of food at four locations in Spokane Valley and east Spokane. Each bag contains enough food for two to three days and students can pick up as many bags as they want as often as they want. Volunteers will visit each site twice a week to make sure they’re fully stocked, Coblentz said.
The students also get a food truck punch card they can use to get 55 meals at any food truck that is a member of the food truck association, which works out to 3,080 meals over the summer. “That’s not subsidized,” Coblentz said. “Those food trucks are giving those meals away.”
Coblentz said some of the students have heart-wrenching stories. “This program is really touching our heartstrings,” he said. “This is just a trial run. We’ve never done anything in the summer before.”
Businesses have stepped up to help pay for the program, but Coblentz said his organization is asking for donations to help cover costs.
“We just went out on a limb,” he said. “We don’t have any money for it. Contributions are helpful, but we’ll do it anyway.”
Coblentz said he also hopes to use some of the former mortgage payment money to build his organization’s reserves. “If the economy goes down again, we are the safety net for Spokane Valley,” he said. “They’re going to want help when they’re desperate.”
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