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Rotary and United Way Volunteers Partner to Support Individuals in Need

Tackling significant needs such as hunger and education inequities can be daunting. Sometimes taking that first step requires a little help. United Way of Thurston County (UWTC), Olympia Rotary Club, GRuB, and the Family Support Center of South Sound (FSCSS) recently joined together to ensure our most vulnerable have access to the food and necessities we often take for grantedputting in action the idea that we're stronger when we work together and share the load.
Thanks to a recent grant from Olympia's Rotary, the United Way was able to work with volunteers in packing 110 supply kits for individuals in need. Of those, 48 were youth-focused educational and enrichment kits which provided critical educational tools for youth working towards a GED in GRuB's integrated study and employment training program.
The remaining 62 were hygiene kits for survivors of domestic violence or people experiencing homelessness and handed out via the Family Support Center of South Sound. These consisted of shampoo and body wash, washcloth, deodorant, shaving cream, razor, comb, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, and toothpaste.
United Way's Development Director Mike Leonard is also an Olympia Rotarian, so often acts as a go-between when needs and opportunities arise. "This grant was part of the Fred Balz Community Grant Program," explains Kate Watkins of the UWTC Community Engagement team. "According to the Rotary club, Fred Balz was a beloved local physician and 50-year Rotarian with a commitment to meeting needs within the greater Olympia area. The grant is for projects that help nonprofit organizations address an unmet need that will enhance the quality of life for adults, youth, and children in the greater Olympia area."
In this case, enhancing quality of life came through a heartbreakingly simple need: supplies. When approached by GRuB and the Family Support Center, United Way decided to focus grant funding on hygiene and enrichment. "UW often partners with different service groups to make a difference in Thurston County," says Watkins. "We have received grants from organizations and businesses that are service-oriented, like Rotary and Target. We also get to work with workplaces that are passionate about service through our Workplace United program."
GRuB, or Garden-Raised Bounty, is a nonprofit that positions itself "at the intersection of food, education, and health systems to grow healthy food, people, and communities...We envision an equitable world where we are all nourished by healthy relationships, resilient community, and good food," according to their vision statement.
Family Support Center has a similar goal in our region. As their mission explains, they are "working together to strengthen all families. Family Support Center seeks to build strong, healthy, safe, and hopeful families through five collaborative programs and multiple services, utilizing a one-stop-shop model. The Family Support Center diligently works to end family homelessness, poverty, and family violence."
United Way coordinates volunteers and donations in many ways, especially on projects such as this. "According to our partner agencies, there has been an increase in need due to COVID-19," admits Watkins. "Those who are most vulnerable are often suffering the most due to the pandemic."
As with any project, all aspects relied on teamwork from start to finish. "Community partnerships are important because they help bring our community together, and we can help to make Thurston County a more caring place," says Watkins. "To get these kits into the hands of the people who needed them, we first needed our community partners to tell us what their clients needed most. Then, we needed funding from a community organization like Rotary. Then, we needed to mobilize volunteers to help put together the kits. For this project, our volunteers were employees from our Workplace United partner 1st Security Bank Lacey. Then we needed GRuB and FSCSS to help distribute the kits. All of our community partners worked together to help us complete this project, and if one partner was unable to help, the project would not have been completed."
Bank volunteers were happy to step up. "Helping members of the community is a passion for our team," says 1st Security Branch Manager Abra McKean." I am so thankful that United Way of Thurston County helps connect us to the need. Supporting organizations like GRuB with making enrichment kits is something tangible and immediate that we did to help our neighbors. Connecting this way is what makes us a community!"
"Folks can always donate, and we will ensure that goods and money are allocated to create the most impact in the community," says Watkins. "If people want to donate in-kind goods, we can direct you to a community partner that needs those goods."