by Sally Blanchard
In Milton-Freewater, a small farming and ranching town near Walla Walla, 45 percent of the population is Hispanic. The immigrants work in the vineyards, orchards and pea industries. Their children mostly work in low hourly wage jobs which have been reduced or eliminated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Poverty is not new here but now it is harder than usual. For those who are homeless (about 20 at this time), life has become a daily struggle. The public restrooms are closed. The library, here they used to have access to computers and a safe place to nap during the day, is closed. The small cafés that gave them a free cup of coffee and place to plug in their cell phones are closed. There is no one at the DHS office.
When Tillie MakePeace, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, heard about the opportunity to apply for a grant to buy Safeway gift cards she was excited and thankful. With Columbia District Superintendent Erin Martin’s help she applied for and received $5,000 to purchase 100 gift cards for $50 each. The Grocery Gift Cards for Families grant encourages reaching out to community partners who serve food insecure populations and know of the greatest needs.
Since Wesley UMC works closely with several community service groups it didn’t take long to find their partners.
“With this large an order and its intended purpose we were able to get a discount from Safeway which provided five more gift cards,” MakePeace said.
She divided them between the Breadbasket and Gib Olinger Elementary School’s family food program. She retained the five additional cards for folks who come to use Wesley’s shower facilities, the only free shower facility in the area.
At the Breadbasket, the local food bank, supplies have fallen short in the areas food stamps cannot buy: toilet paper, tooth paste, diapers, wipes, socks and more. The gift cards will help people buy some of these necessities.
Milton-Freewater community members are used to pitching in where needed. In Febrruary a flood threatened to swamp part of the town. Makepeace said people stopped what they were doing to fill sand bags to reinforce the dyke and worked together to open an overnight shelter for those affected by the flood. “This community doesn’t get stuck too much on political differences. They focus on helping those who are basic needs insecure. It’s an incredibly generous community.”
“We who serve our brothers and sisters of Grace in need are deeply thankful for this opportunity to support struggling families and persons. These folks struggle when there is no crisis, so it is most wonderful to offer extended support during this time.”