When Joan Wallace reflects on her decision on a Thanksgiving nine years ago to create a grassroots charity to address the needs of the mostly poverty-level Hispanic families in a small Yakima Valley community, she says "it seemed like pie in the sky."
In fact, the manner in which the organization Wallace created, Friends of Granger, has done its annual fund raising through a single e-mail she sends each Thanksgiving week to friends and family might seem to some like an annual revisiting of that description.
"How else than that description to explain the expectation that a small group of caring individuals could adopt an entire village and make a difference in the lives of needy children - not just for today, but for their future," mused Wallace, principal and retired president of Bellevue-based Wallace Properties.
But the on-going impact Friends of Granger has on the community, which U.S. Census figures indicate is 85 percent Hispanic or Latino, suggests that the charity Wallace launched with her sister in law, Janet Wheaton, on Thanksgiving Day of 2003 has indeed made a difference.
Wheaton was then principal at Granger high school but is now federal programs director of the Granger School District, where she told me she now has "the privilege of serving all the families of our school district and community."
More than 300 people receive Wallace's e-mail each year, an outreach that represents the only source of fund-raising for the non-profit's tiny $50,000 annual budget, a fund-raising effort that Wallace concedes usually raises closer to $35,000.
But because the little 501c3 that was incorporated in early 2004 has no overhead, with all the clerical support and services donated, all the money goes to the families, touching as many as 150 families in the Granger community.
"A lot of kids are part of large families, so they come to school in hand-me-downs, jackets with the zippers not working, and no gloves," notes Wallace, now president of the 501c3 while Wheaton is treasurer. "If the teacher decides a kid is in need of a new coat, they're sent to the office and the secretary takes them down to the stock room where they get to pick out a new coat."
"There are 60 to 80 kids a year who wind up needing coats, so we have to buy them in all sizes, which we do at the end of a season and have them in stock for the next year," she adds.
The incentive during the conversation that first year between Wallace and Wheaton was a concern that without some assistance, children in dozens of families (social workers later identified the number as 160 families) would be going hungry without the two subsidized meals they had each day.
The $100 grocery gift cards that were purchased from Fiesta Foods, the local Hispanic grocery, which chipped in by providing holiday meal baskets at wholesale cost, were sent anonymously to the families of the poorest children.
But Because Wallace has difficulty thinking small, what was born that Christmas season as a food gift soon grew into programs throughout the year to not just feed and clothe but to enrich those poorest kids.
Thus came discounted purchase of book bags from Costco, a month long summer day camp, and Ready! For Kindergarten, focusing on early learning and parenting skills. Then the annual purchase of coats and mittens, which Wheaton oversees.
The ask each year is composed fresh from the heart rather than recycled and this year's details what the donated dollars achieve, noting that Wheaton has identified "150 families that will need our help this year. Our objective is to allocate $125.00 per family."
Though one year she closed with a quote from Mother Theresa ("We cannot all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love"), the ask is generally a soft one, like this year's: "If you could see your way clear to support Friends of Granger with a gift this year it would be wonderful."
The Fund is reachable at:
Friends of Granger
C/o Joan Wallace, PO Box 4184, Bellevue, WA. 98009
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