By: Cori Kauk
Issaquah Nourishing Network
The Issaquah Nourishing Network: Is a group of people from different nonprofits, businesses, City Government and concerned citizens coming together to address food security issues in the greater Issaquah area. We have representatives from the Issaquah Schools Foundation, Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank, Seattle Tilth, Eastside Friends of Seniors, Catholic Community Services, Issaquah Community Services and Issaquah Network. Our services group representatives include a variety of churches, Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs. We have decided to research the prevailing food security gaps in our community. We are asking ourselves who are the community members that are not being adequately nourished and developing creative strategies to address those needs. Our first meeting was in September 2011. We have monthly meetings and we end each meeting sharing our individual “commitments” and this is a goal we individual plan to accomplish by the next meeting. These “commitments” keep us goal-orientated and moving in a common direction.
What we know: The Issaquah Nourishing Network quickly found that some of our most vulnerable populations are most affected by hunger, children and seniors. Of the 42,245 people the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank served this year 22,510 were children from 0-18 and senior citizens. Issaquah School District has four Title One elementary schools.
What we are working on now:
Building Relationships – Our group quickly recognized that there are amazing things going on in Issaquah related to food security. We initially wanted to increase communication across the variety of service groups, programs and community members so that we can be as strategic as possible in ensuring there are not gaps or unnecessary duplications in services. Our number one goal was to network and build relationships, knowing that a strong committed group of citizens can lead to influencing systematic change related to food security in our community. We wanted to have some quick wins and decided to focus on the strengths of the group and who was immediately at the table. In the beginning we started by asking some analytical questions about our community and who should join our group, leading us to naturally look at what resource already exist. Our first project was to put together an Issaquah resource guide and a business card sized hand out that has a list of all the hot meal programs and food bank hours. We also started a Facebook page for information sharing. Through our network we learned that some organizations have lots of volunteer needs that are being unmet, while other organizations have to turn volunteers away. With these types of monthly check-ins our group is able to better support each other and our partner programs.
Weekend Backpack Program – With so many areas of need the Issaquah Nourishing Network decided to start with a focused effort to ensuring that no Issaquah child goes hungry on the weekends and that they show up well fed and ready to learn Monday mornings. We are in the beginning stages of developing a weekend backpack program. Our community has four Title One Elementary Schools and a very high need high school with an alternative school program. We are going to target these four elementary schools and provide 20 weekend backpacks at each school. We immediately started providing donated food to the alternative high school for a Friday lunch program.
Food Stamp Challenge – Issaquah hunger and homelessness looks different then hunger and homelessness in Seattle or the inner-city. The Issaquah Nourishing Network wants to improve community awareness about the challenges our community members face. A public challenge that encourages people to live off a food stamp budget for one to two weeks could be utilized as an education tool and a savvy way to promote the Issaquah Nourishing Network.
What the Future Brings: While we are working on developing our Weekend Backpack program we are researching what might be next for our group. We are working closely with our partners Eastside Friends of Seniors in assessing the food needs of our senior citizens. We know our senior population is challenged with being homebound, mobility, transportation and financial insecurity.
We envision ourselves addresses community needs as they unfold and playing a pivotal role in bridging the gaps between the needs and a nurturing community.