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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Difference Maker: Rick Clark’s Spokane Quaranteam raises thousands for area restaurants

Within five minutes, Rick Clark had more than 300 people watching him last Friday on Facebook for his daily Spokane Quaranteam livestream.

As the viewers flowed in, Clark – joined by his wife, Virginia – kicked off the livestream by explaining the Quaranteam’s mission. Born from the pandemic, the group sets out to purchase meals from Spokane-area restaurants for anyone in the community.

Friday’s update came just a day after the Quaranteam raised $11,084.38, a single-day record. The next morning, the Quaranteam bought hundreds of breakfast meals from two Spokane restaurants, the Kalico Kitchen and Hillside Inn.

Wearing a Quaranteam shirt and a Gonzaga hat, Clark called the effort a “win-win-win” for the restaurants, the community and people eager to help.

“It’s perfect for this storm that we’re going through,” he said during the livestream.

When he started the initiative in March, Clark had no idea the level of community support would reach this point, he said in an interview.

He had a similar mindset when starting Giving Back Packs, a 501©(3) nonprofit that donates backpacks with essential items and resources to the homeless. Clark said his first ask on social media for one backpack garnered enough donations to load 25.

Rick Clark, who is well-known for his Giving Back Packs nonprofit and the Spokane Quaranteam, which buys out meals at local restaurants, is a 2020 Difference Maker.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Rick Clark, who is well-known for his Giving Back Packs nonprofit and the Spokane Quaranteam, which buys out meals at local restaurants, is a 2020 Difference Maker. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As of the most recent count, Clark said, Giving Back Packs has since handed out more than 6,500 packs, expanding the program to offer other resources such as bus passes, gas money and help with utility bills.

Having struggled with poverty and homelessness throughout various parts of his life, Clark famously turned it around in 2015 with the beginnings of Giving Back Packs. He attended Spokane Community College – more than two decades removed from dropping out in the 10th grade.

He moved on to get his bachelor’s degree in communication studies from Gonzaga University, when his life and Giving Back Packs caught the eye of Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs.” Featured on Rowe’s web series “Returning the Favor,” Clark said he received $70,000 worth of supplies for Giving Back Packs – and a check covering his tuition.

Now back at Gonzaga for a master’s degree in organizational leadership, the 49-year-old father of five said the attention has attracted “an army” of virtual supporters geared toward community improvement.

“What that’s done is create a trust between both of us: the community and myself,” Clark said. “They’ve seen me go through it. They’ve seen me do the things that I say I’m going to do – which, in leadership, I think that’s very important. And then I know that they’re going to back me up so that I can come at everybody with the craziest ideas, like this Quaranteam thing, and say, ‘What do you guys think?’ ”

The opportunity arose in March, when Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a series of COVID-19 restrictions. Among those was the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, which banned most gatherings and closed all nonessential businesses.

The restrictions limited Clark’s ability to do his traditional outreach activities through Giving Back Packs, he said. So, he had an idea.

“Honestly, that first night was trying to raise $200 to get some pizza and have it delivered to a shelter,” he said.

As of Thursday, the Quaranteam has raised more than $160,000 in helping over 90 restaurants in the Spokane area.

By day, donated meals are purveyed at the group’s latest goodwill target. By night, Clark is on Facebook Live, outlining donation totals and future plans.

Clark said the Quaranteam is working from a list of licensed food sellers from the Spokane Regional Health District. Estimating roughly 150 eateries left to hit, Clark said the group does not take nominations since he doesn’t have time to track tallies.

“They don’t have to go through a government agency. They don’t have to apply for a grant to try to convince us why they’re worthy,” he said. “We just show up at the door with $2,500, drop it on them and all of their customers come and give them hugs. This is a win-win and kind of eliminates that red tape stuff.”

Courtesy of the Quaranteam, Halletts Market and Cafe in Spokane Valley sold out of sandwiches, popcorn and soda Dec. 17.

In all of her approximately 40 years of business, Cindy Hallett said she had never served as many people in one day as the cafe did then. Hallett said she was up around 2:30 a.m. preparing product for the rush.

It was well worth it, she said.

“It’s been extremely stressful for small businesspeople and challenging, to say the least,” Hallett said. “I cannot think of one person that has done as much for small business restaurants than Rick.”

To that point, Hallett had never met Clark, nor had she engaged with the Quaranteam beyond basic Facebook interactions. Amid COVID-19 concerns, Hallett said she hadn’t hugged a stranger in months.

But when Clark arrived that day, Hallett couldn’t help herself.

“He should be wearing a Santa suit,” she said. “He’s just the nicest guy. He knows where we’re coming from.”

Hallett said the Quaranteam’s efforts will help relieve her business of some bills in the new year. And once she’s able to get back on her feet, Hallett said she is eager to pay it forward someday – possibly through Giving Back Packs.

Clark said he is happy to see similar sentiments spreading to other areas. He has had talks with people in Walla Walla, Kennewick, Colville and others about the Quaranteam concept.

Clark has also spoken to Gonzaga students on how to sustainably raise money online for people in need. In a world filled with other online crowdfunding campaigns and compassion fatigue, Clark said transparency and authenticity are key.

“This is a very authentic thing we’re doing,” Clark said. “It’s so easy to walk into it and start helping.”

The transparency is partly what drew Tammy Mckean to engage with the Quaranteam in the first place.

Mckean said she watched the Facebook group blossom from 100 members into something more than 21,000 strong. She knew of Clark through Giving Back Packs; as a retired mental health counselor for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, Mckean said she connected to the nonprofit’s mission after encountering many of those “first forgotten, last served” during her career.

“(Clark) makes you feel like you’re included,” Mckean added, “and I think that’s part of the addiction to it. He treats you like you’re part of the team. Everything’s positive.”

Clark said he’s driven by his roots.

“Anything I needed, I needed my community to give it to me because I couldn’t take care of myself,” Clark said of life before his turnaround. “Being on this side, knowing that I can help people find their better days and find their step up that they need, that’s all I want to do.”

To that end, Clark said he wants to be a teacher in some capacity – even if it’s through inspirational speaking or a similar forum.

He’ll have his chance next year, as Clark said he is scheduled to give a TED Talk in October.

“I’m really excited about talking to people, sharing my story, encouraging people to go out and find their greatest day,” he said, “but I also am really interested in teaching. So I’m kind of looking at all of those avenues of teaching communication studies.

“I never thought I’d say that, but here I am.”