A partnership between Whidbey Island Nourishes (WIN) and the South Whidbey Commons feeds young people and empowers them to support themselves through job training. For nearly five years, hungry youth and adults have benefitted from free meals and healthy snacks that WIN volunteers have prepared and placed in a refrigerator located behind the South Whidbey Commons Coffeehouse Bookstore. Meanwhile, inside the building, students and adults have participated in a workplace training program that makes them better candidates for further education or employment elsewhere.
The two organizations have supported each other’s work in the past and recently combined their efforts to better serve local youth. The Commons constructed an addition to its building into which WIN installed a refurbished automat-style vending machine that dispenses food to those in need.
“We transitioned from a residential-style fridge to a vending machine to improve food safety,” says Miriam Coates, director of programs for WIN. “To minimize waste, the machine offers healthy à la carte items that enable people to make their own selections.”
In true South Whidbey barn-raising style, the addition to the Commons building was designed by architect Ross Chapin, who donated his time and resources, and built by South Whidbey Commons board members Jim Shelver and Ron Norman with a great deal of help from volunteers Don Zontine, Kurt Hoelting, and Barton Cole. Hanson’s Building Supply donated skylights, Jim Shelver donated roofing materials, and John Clark donated the electrical hook-up. The vending machine was made possible by a grant that the Paul Glaser Foundation awarded to WIN, and the alcove for it was partially funded by Walt Blackford, who hosted a free showing of The Wizard of Oz at the Clyde Theater on his 60th birthday and encouraged attendees to donate toward the alcove’s construction.
“This is a safe place for kids to come,” says Shelver, who oversaw construction of the project. “Here, they have the privacy to accept the gift of free food with dignity.”
“We’re excited about this transition,” adds Coates. “The site here at the Commons is ideal. They were our first partnering site, and the collaboration meshes well with what we’re both trying to do: offer community support for local youth.”
The food that WIN offers is lovingly and respectfully prepared by volunteers, and the vending machine is stocked with sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, string cheese, and WIN’s signature trail mix. “People are often surprised that good nutrition tastes so good,” says Margaret Andersen, WIN’s treasurer/secretary. “The peanut butter sandwiches are the best,” agrees one of the teenagers trying out the new vending machine.
“Childhood hunger is detrimental to healthy development and academic success,” says Coates. “We give kids the nourishment to do what they need to do.”
One of the things kids eventually need to do is learn how to support themselves, and inside the Coffeehouse Bookstore, middle- and high school students receive academic credit while learning to work successfully in a café. The training they receive improves their self-esteem, employability, and career prospects. But there are additional benefits—some of them unexpected.
“I’m thankful for the Commons because of the community it gave me,” says a former barista trainee. “It really helped me to blossom into the person I wanted to be. For the first time, I felt like I belonged somewhere. It gave me a haven from a bad home life, so that I never wanted to leave!”
WIN and the Commons are pleased with their collaboration and have received positive feedback about the new vending machine and its location. Although no coins are required to dispense food, the vending machine’s coin slot is set up to accept donations.
Both nonprofits encourage members of the community to get involved, volunteer, and support the island’s young people through their organizations. For more information about WIN, see WhidbeyIslandNourishes.org and SouthWhidbeyCommons.org.