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Manito Pres rallies around Palouse Trails community to address food insecurity during COVID-19

A simple act of love – something akin to the generous young child who gave up his loaves and fish for the crowd – brought Manito Presbyterian Church to the residents of Palouse Trails to help combat food insecurity during the pandemic.

Food insecurity has long plagued residents throughout Spokane – an estimated 20 percent of children in the Lilac City don’t have access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. During COVID-19, that number more than doubled and, for minorities, food insecurity rates are even higher.

It all started when Scott Starbuck, pastor of Manito Presbyterian, got a phone call from Nancy Goodwin, World Relief Church Mobilizer. As it turned out, there was a significant amount of extra nonperishable foods from a distribution site run by First Presbyterian church. The First Pres team reached out to World Relief to see whether members of the refugee and immigrant community had need for the extra food. So, Nancy called up Manito Presbyterian and boldly asked if they might begin a distribution at a new site, Palouse Trails.  

“What World Relief was really helpful for was helping us cross the initial boundary. It would’ve been super hard for us to know how to do this and go into a different space than we knew,” Scott said.

At that time, Palouse Trails was home to at least ten newly arrived World Relief families. With record unemployment rates that disproportionately affected refugees and other immigrants, many needed extra help to make it through.

That’s where Janine Wikoff, Manito Pres’s financial stewardship elder, stepped in. After Nancy made the connection, Manito volunteers took off running with Janine at the helm. Through her planning and leadership, the group was able to find funding to continue providing fresh foods and produce after Second Harvest was faced with the difficult choice to reduce the program to only nonperishable items.

“Being new to Spokane, I didn’t know about the food opportunity network. I was just finding extra food and getting it to the right people,” Janine said. “One gal told me the distribution got her and her husband through rough point, but now they are both employed.”

The whole thing was a wonderful opportunity for two local churches to live out a joint mission and invite local organizations into the joy. Manito Presbyterian, in partnership with First Presbyterian, Rosauers, and Second Harvest Food Bank, assembled a small army of volunteers to ensure consistent food access right there at the apartment complex. Together, the group combed supermarket aisles and skimmed through circulars, all so they could supplement the non-perishables from Second Harvest with other foods the families needed: eggs, bread fresh produce, and meat.

Janine watched in awe as Palouse Trails residents – both refugees and otherwise – went above and beyond to look out for each other during this difficult season. She recalled how neighbors would always remind each other when the Manito team was scheduled to come, and how a young boy from Afghanistan helped his neighbors overcome the language barrier.

“He’d come every week to get food for his family as the man of the house. Once he got his food, he’d help another family from Afghanistan, a mom and a couple girls, and he’d interpret for them so they could get their food, too,” she said.

Manito held the final food distribution about a month ago, as many families had resumed employment or found other jobs, and additional funding for the program was running. Although Manito won’t have a program at Palouse Trails anymore, Janine has expressed hope that this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Katherine Bell-Hanley | 5/17/2021

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