United Way Celebrates 100 Years

Over $350 million dollars has been reinvested in Pierce County since 1921 when the United Way of Pierce County (UWPC) was formed.  Originally known as the Federation of Social Service Agencies, the organization was born out of the necessity to better coordinate the work of several Tacoma social agencies to avoid duplication and serve more people.

How does an organization like the United Way of Pierce County that gives so much celebrate something as momentous as a 100-year anniversary?  Well, that’s easy.  They give some more.  

On May 14, to honor the first day in 1921 the Federation of Social Service Agencies held an official meeting complete with officers, the UWPC will be collecting non-perishable food to feed families in need from locations throughout Pierce County from 11am to 2pm.  For more information, go to united-way-pierce-county-turns-100-years-old.

This first event will be followed by two other celebratory events including a Public Kickoff in September, followed by a Gala Dinner in 2022.

Looking back through the years to 1921 is interesting, but UWPC is highly focused on looking forward with their “15,000 by 2028” pledge.

“At United Way of Pierce County, we have a long, rich history of mobilizing the caring power of our community and we’re committed to lifting 15,000 families out of poverty and into financial stability by 2028, one family at a time,” said Dona Ponepinto, President and CEO of United Way of Pierce County.

As of this writing, UWPC is well on its way to exceeding that goal with more than 4,300 families moving towards self-sufficiency since the pledge was made in 2018.   In partnership with the community, Ponepinto and her team are meeting this goal in three ways.

Through partnerships with seven trusted community organizations, the United Way of Pierce County’s Center for Strong Families helps struggling, local families improve their financial bottom line with one-on-one mentoring and coaching.  The program helps clients get jobs, increase their income, decrease their expenses, build their credit and acquire assets.

By investing in basic needs through a wide range of community organizations, UWPC helps cover critical needs like food, health care, childcare and shelter.  When a family’s basic needs are met, they can move out of crisis and prevent future crisis through greater stability.

And then, there’s United Way’s South Sound 211 — a free helpline to connect people in need with critical community resources and provide navigation services for behavioral health, housing, transportation, and employment. 

After nearly 30 years in existence, the mission of 211 expanded as it began tackling COVID-19 issues in addition to housing and other needs it typically handles.  South Sound 211 was instrumental in meeting the challenges faced during the pandemic.  As part of the WA211 Network, 211 was activated to respond to calls for the Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH) COVID-19 Hotline, resulting in expanded hours of operation, and the hiring and training of additional staff and volunteers.  Supporting Pierce, Thurston and Lewis Counties, 211 connected more than 79,000 people (60,000 via the hotline number) in 2020.

According to Pete Grignon, Chief Financial Officer of United Way of Pierce County with over 33 years of tenure, “It really is about finding the best way to help the most people.”  

You can learn more about United Way of Pierce County and their celebration of 100 Years at www.UWPC.org

Indochine’s Creativity in Crisis

What do you do in a community crisis? If you’re Russel Brunton at Indochine in downtown Tacoma, you figure out how to prepare tasty meals for hungry local heroes and keep your staff on the job.

From the early days of the coronavirus challenge, Brunton joined several other restaurant owners to provide nutritious meals for medical personnel at local hospitals. They worked in collaboration with Hero Meals. Donors provided funds, and Downtown Tacoma Partnership ordered and delivered meals. Indochine has prepared some 30 delicious meals a week.

“It’s great to work with Downtown Tacoma Partnership,” Brunton said. J.D. Elquist is a fantastic coordinator. They promote online. He communicates daily, and people cooperate. Consistency is really important.”

“The shutdown has been an exercise in creativity,” Brunton explained. “We reduced our prices by 25 percent. The challenge has been to keep the food fresh and to keep the boxed orders straight.” Brunton found that fried rice, noodles and curry dishes travel especially well, but he tries to add something different to the menu every week.

During difficult weeks it hasn’t been just about the food or about community service. It’s been about individuals who need to work. Brunton says Indochine has been aggressive about keeping people employed. “It’s important to keep our group together, to keep everyone active, to keep their skills sharp,” he said. “Our business is skill-based and team-oriented.” 

“I think the most exciting thing to me is when we are able to bring staff members back to work,” Brunton said. “We have a lot of young people working at the restaurant, and when we can bring one back, it is a great feeling. They are excited to get back to the restaurant and get back to work.”

Most staff work in the kitchen to prepare the signature Indochine dishes. During the shutdown phase, three or four team members have worked in the front on every shift to distribute pickup orders. 

Cooperation, creativity and community service have been key to weathering the COVID-19 pandemic.


For more information: 



1924 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, WA 98402 

(253) 272-8200

Multicare Good Samaritan

 Good Samaritan has been cared for COVID-19 patients since the beginning of the pandemic in Washington. Throughout the COVID-19 response, community members have been providing a morale boost to health care workers through kind words, donations and artwork.

Read the following reflections from Good Samaritan team members about working at the hospital and what the outpouring of support from the community means to them.

Charlene Falgout, Chief Nurse

“I’m so proud to watch our nurses, day after day, dress up in gear and take care of our patients with courage, heart and grace. They adapt to the numerous changes and they continue to do the right thing to protect and care for their patients and families.

Lescia Myers, Clinical Director, Critical Care

Lescia has been leading the COVID-19 teams at Good Samaritan. “The support from the community is what brings joy to staff throughout the day. It makes us feel like we are not alone.

I want to celebrate our COVID-19 teams on 8-Dally and 5-Dally. My team and the staff at Good Samaritan Hospital have been amazing. The support from the community and the response from the system and across the nation makes me hopeful for the future.”

Michele Rivers, Director of Nutrition Services

“The support from the community is beyond. It’s beyond. We just love you for it. We all have families at home. But we are all a family too.

My team has more than eighty people and we’re at the frontlines of this pandemic as well. I’m proud of the way that we’ve been able to help others. I’m also proud that we can still come here and have fun.” 

Acacia Corson, Patient Access

“I love all of the community support – I love all of the art. Something so small can make such a difference. The small businesses who have had to cut their own business but are still making donations to support us – it speaks volumes.

What makes me hopeful is the way everyone at Good Samaritan Hospital jumped into action during this crisis, ready to do assist one another and other departments any way they could. After all of this, I can’t wait to see my friends up close and hang out. My two-year-old daughter keeps me hopeful. She reminds me of what things used to be like.”

Sandy Ross, RN, BSN, CPAN – PACU Nurse

“I’ve worked here for 29 years. The community support right now is very heartening. The artwork is wonderful! We have pictures from kids in the PACU. We also love the donated meals.

I want to recognize some of the unsung heroes like our housekeeping and nutrition services team members. They are just as exposed as the rest of us and they are doing such great work. After all this, I can’t wait until we can travel again. There’s a smooth jazz cruise Rocky and I really want to be able to take one day.”

Dr. Dennis Kolb, MD, Chief Medical Officer

“I’m proud of the way our teams have been flexible with all of the changes, never losing sight of why we are all here. Everyone who works here has stepped up in their own way. What makes me hopeful for the future is knowing the strength of our team. The support from the community is everything – it’s why we’re here.”

The Lasagna Lady Spreads the Love

As a youth growing up in the Bay Area of California, Michelle Brenner enjoyed big, traditional Sunday dinners with family.  When lasagna was served, it usually accompanied an occasion of sorts and brought back warm memories. When she witnessed people buying store-bought, commercially made lasagnas as part of their pandemic meals, the Gig Harbor resident felt compelled to make an incredible offer via Facebook: She would make a lasagna free of charge for anyone who wanted one.

Six weeks later, Brenner has made over 820 lasagnas for the community, with a goal of making 1,000 total in eight weeks. Her small gesture has grown into a regional phenomenon. People order lasagnas to be sent to hospitals, fire fighters, senior centers, essential retailers, and even prisons.  While Brenner says her lasagna may be no better or worse than others’ homemade lasagna, it comes right from her heart.  Each pan has a bit of a different journey to reach its happy recipient, and Brenner is equally happy to continue making them.

“The lasagna is really only a small part of the story.  The biggest part of the story is the connections I am making between people during this situation,” Brenner said.  While she makes all the lasagna alone, other people who want to help do so by buying and delivering her supplies. More and more people are offering their support and help as she continues to provide delicious lasagnas to the community. Recently, the Gig Harbor Sportsman’s Club even offered her use of their commercial kitchen, which has improved Brenner’s capabilities immensely.

With the ingredients for each lasagna estimated at $16-19, depending on how successful her shopping in bulk is accomplished, Brenner hopes to raise money to reach her goal of 1,000 lasagnas. And as long as supplies continue to hold out, she looks well-positioned to meet, if not exceed, her goal.  “Maybe this was my true calling.  Something I was always meant to do.  It took an awful thing to open this door.” 

If you’d like to donate to the project, or order a homemade lasagna, you can find The Lasagna Lady on Michelle Brenner’s Facebook account. https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=Michelle+Brenner

Wellness begins at Naturepedic Organic Mattress Gallery

Mindy and Jason Schaefer are the owners of Naturepedic Organic Mattress Gallery in University Place’s blossoming town center. That’s where to find chemical-free mattresses, bedding, soft Holy Lamb baby gear and comfy cotton robes.

“We care about organic,” Mindy Schaefer said. “It is about health and the preservation of our natural world.”

A baby started the movement. In 2003 Barry A. Cik, a board-certified environmental engineer with a long record of advocacy for safer products, researched mattresses for his first grandchild. He couldn’t find a single option that didn’t have questionable chemicals, potential allergens or hazardous flame retardants. 

Barry and his sons Jeff and Jason co-founded Naturepedic to offer parents a better mattress for their babies. Now Naturepedic has grown to offer certified organic mattresses and accessories for the whole family.

In the University Place shop small baskets of fleecy wool invite shoppers to feel the natural fibers. Cut -away mattress samples offer a look at how organic products are combined to create comfy beds. This is the only privately owned gallery between Vancouver, BC, and the San Francisco Bay area for experiencing the mattresses.

“Come in and take a short rest,” Schaefer invited. Then, shoppers can check the shelves and displays of Holy Lambs organic and Coyuchi products for their children or grandchildren.

The Schaefers say their vision is to promote health and well-being and to strengthen the local economy using sustainable and ecological practices. Their shops in University Place and in Olympia (in the historic Steam Plant Building) are owner operated. 

“We bring distinctive, comfy healthy goods to the marketplace without ever compromising our commitment to sustainability and the environment,” Schaefer said.

For Additional Information

Naturepedic Organic Mattress Gallery



Olympic Landscape: Heart For Community

Olympic Landscape has been designing, building and servicing outdoor residential and commercial spaces in the South Sound for more than 40 years. As an expert landscape contractor, the company creates beautiful outdoor living spaces, unique gathering spaces and specially-themed gardens for homes and businesses. The owner and CEO, Joe Areyano, plans to continue that legacy. He is also adding new services and products that will carry Olympic forward for at least another 40 years. 

“My family started a landscape company in 1980, so I’ve been around the industry for the majority of my life,” says Areyano. “At age 16, I started learning every division of the company, from landscape retaining walls to irrigation.” After about five years, he was promoted to field manager and continued to work his way into greater responsibilities. He’s now a certified landscape professional. This hands-on experience, he says, helps him ensure that customers receive the highest-quality service. 

Since Areyano purchased Olympia Landscape from founder Neil Hedman, he has been expanding the business. The company intends to grow into a regional leader, expanding its service area and the services it offers: landscape design and maintenance, snow and ice removal, and small works. This is good news for local businesses and homeowners who need these services. 

The growth of Olympic Landscape is good news for the larger community as well. The company increased the number of employees to about 50 in 2018. Additionally, Olympic donates 10 percent of net profits to local charities and events. St. Francis House, which eases the hardships of those in need in east Pierce County, and Backpack Kids, which provides food to children in need for weekends and school breaks, are two that Areyano says the company is particularly proud to support.


OlyFed: Heroes Here for You Every Day

For some businesses and organizations, their mission statements or slogans are catchy phrases they use for marketing.  At Olympia Federal Savings (OlyFed), though, they take it one step further as they live up to their motto, “Here for You.  Here for Good.” every day through their actions and deeds. 

Under the direction of President and CEO Lori Drummond, OlyFed tackled the issues of the pandemic in a two-pronged approach.  First, as a financial institution, OlyFed jumped into the work of assisting local small businesses with Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that were part of the national relief package.  All eight OlyFed branches in Thurston and Mason counties worked with small businesses and nonprofits in their counties to obtain over $4.3 million in loans, helping these operations retain more than 520 jobs right here in our community.   

“A little over a year ago, private sector jobs surpassed public sector jobs as the main providers of income in Thurston County,” Drummond said. “We recognize small businesses are essential to the success of our local economy and the health of our community, so helping neighborhood entrepreneurs is the right thing to do to keep us moving in a positive direction.” 

Next, as one of the leading philanthropic businesses in the South Sound, OlyFed stepped up to help its neighbors with $15,000 in donations to the Thurston County COVID-19 Response Fund and the South Puget Sound Habitat For Humanity Emergency Family Needs Fund. 

“As a mutual bank, accountable to our customers, not corporate shareholders, we dedicate approximately 10% to 15% of our profits to the community every year,” Drummond said. “In response to the pandemic, we thought it was vital to help our area’s most vulnerable individuals and families to ensure they get the help they need to stay healthy and safe.” When faced with this challenge, OlyFed shows that they truly live up to their slogan “Here for You. Here for Good.” 

For more information visit their site at olyfed.com or call 360.754.3400. 

ShowCase Magazine’s “Best of 2021” Poll

Code Lavender: Caring for our Caregivers

Caring for the community during a pandemic can take a toll on frontline and other essential health care heroes.

“There were days when you just wanted to cry, because these patients that you work so hard on to get them better, they weren’t going to get better,” Heidi Strub, RT, at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, shares.

“It was not difficult just emotionally, it was draining physically,” Max Ceban, RT, at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital, adds. “It’s a dark memory in my life.”

It is because of this very reason that MultiCare has created the Code Lavender program to provide mental health and emotional support for health care workers.

Code Lavender is a donor-powered program that began in 2016 to provide peer-to-peer incident stress management following a traumatic event. Led by a team of physicians, nurses, chaplains, social workers and mental health counselors, Code Lavender offers debriefings, educational presentations, reflection rounds and spiritual care to help employees reduce stress and avoid burnout.

“People will share their heart for a minute, and then they go back to being brave, back into that role of being a hero,” MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital Chaplain, Jim Cornwell, says. Code Lavender is important for “sitting beside and being there in the little windows when they just need to process something.”

Today, Code Lavender has grown to include a 24/7 employee support hotline and twice-weekly virtual leadership roundtables to talk through challenges and strategize for success.

Gifts through the MultiCare Health Foundation help Code Lavender expand even further. Donations will help broaden educational, psychological and spiritual resources and extend the program’s geographical reach to MultiCare employees serving in the Inland Northwest.

For Additional Information
MultiCare Health System


Heart Disease Linked to Food Insecurity

People with atherosclerosis, particularly those who earn a low income and have other socioeconomic disadvantages, are more likely to experience food insecurity than those without the condition, according to new research.

In 2018, nearly 11% – 14.3 million – U.S. households were food insecure, a term the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as “limited or uncertain access to adequate food due to lack of money” at least some time during the year.

The new findings were presented last month at the American Heart Association’s virtual Scientific Sessions. They are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Those who listed themselves as “poor/low income” were nearly five times more likely to experience food insecurity. Among people with five or more “high-risk characteristics,” 44.1% reported food insecurity and had 23 times higher odds of being food insecure compared to those with one or no characteristics.

Leaving atherosclerosis unchecked could be dangerous. The fatty plaque may partially or totally block blood flow through large or medium-sized arteries in the heart and brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Treatments for the condition can include medication to prevent clot formation and to control risk factors, surgery, or lifestyle changes such as heart-healthy eating, weight management, exercise and quitting smoking.

Experts say it’s essential for people to be able to afford medications and still be able to eat a balanced diet. Federal nutrition programs, sometimes called “food stamps,” are critical for people with food insecurity, the study said. A previous study commissioned by the USDA found the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) reduced the likelihood of being food insecure by about 30%.

Finding a long-term solution is trickier, but research shows high-quality education is the key. “It’s remarkable to look at the disparity in education among people who end up being food insecure and those who don’t,” he said.

“The solutions need to start early in life with education intervention, from age two onwards. It sounds like an obvious thing to say, but you have to make sure people get a better education so they have better jobs, a higher income and better health.”

For Additional Information
American Heart Association