Seventeen Thousand and Two Ounces of Peanut Butter

Last week the Human Services Department completed a peanut butter drive for the Emergency Food Network. The drive started in a simple way: an idea. Ginny Dale, Director of Pierce County Human Resources, mentioned that her department was doing a drive in collaboration with one of the local labor unions. I thought to myself, what a great idea. The timing was great. I had an All Staff meeting shortly after her announcement. I asked myself how could we brand this and have some fun. Operation BYOPB (Bring Your Own Peanut Butter) was born. The Human Services team chuckled and off they went on a one-month peanut butter drive.

People began to get creative. However, when someone offered to make homemade peanut butter cookies for the division who brought in the most peanut butter things went into overdrive. Each division staked out a spot in the hallway. They hung signs that made clear this was their space for their peanut butter. Over the month, I saw jars getting stacked on each other. There was Jif, Skippy, Peter Pan, with peanuts, without peanuts, organic, low salt, non-GMO, etc. My goodness, I thought to myself, how many brands and types of peanut butter could there be. Then, IT hit me!

You see I grew up in a 900 square-foot house with six children. We were poor and I didn’t even know it. Both of my parents worked to raise us. My father worked three jobs and my mother worked in a factory. My father was a janitor. He was an immigrant from Palestine so he took jobs that most immigrants did at that time. One of his jobs was a part-time gig cleaning floors in a local restaurant at night. I knew that job well because I helped scrape the gum off floors to make things right. Man! My dad could shine some floors.

One day, I remember my mother having difficulty going to work. She had cancer. Through chemo she kept on doing the best she could. She worked hard, but the days she could work became less and less. She died young at 42 years of age. But one thing I remember most was my father paying bills. He always calculated bills on the back of an envelope. Though he never said a word, I could tell by the look on his face that the struggle was real: a sick wife, less money and eight mouths to feed. This is when I was introduced to “government peanut butter” and powdered milk.

As I reflect on our peanut butter drive I was brought back in time. I ask myself now, at what point did the government peanut butter not become peanut butter. It was thick like paint; not like the stuff we see in stores today. It was extremely oily and ripped the toughest of breads as you spread it. During the summer we would place the jar in the sun on the kitchen window sill. Yep, it sure got hot and oily but you could mix it to a palatable consistency. Most of all it spread  without ripping the bread. So, for those who ate the government peanut butter you know the struggle was real. We are now better for it.

I bet you are by now wondering how we did on the drive. We collected 795 jars or 17,002 ounces of peanut butter! Even though the Community Services Team won the bragging rights and the homemade cookies, every person in Human Services is doing something to “spread the peanut butter” in real and tangible ways to the citizens of Pierce County. Remember, the struggle will always be real.  But with a good team of creative folks, we can meet the needs of a lot of people. There are more of us that want to help than there are people that need the help! Hats off to the Pierce County Human Services Team!

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Early Childhood Education: A Tool to Break the Cycle of Poverty and Homelessness

A couple of weeks ago I saw a mother duck with her ducklings following in tow.

As I watched them, it reminded me of how small children follow their teachers in classrooms and brought back fond memories of my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Kertin. In my eyes, Mrs. Kertin was the best! I remember reciting the alphabet, sounding out words, reading in a circle on the primary-colored carpet and most of all being chosen to clap the chalk out of the erasers and assisting with catching copies from the mimeograph machine.

Each day 300 low-income, three- and four-year-olds have a similar experience with staff from Human Services in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP).  A family of four would make no more than $26,730 per year. There are seven ECEAP locations and nine programs throughout Pierce County: Orting, Bonney Lake, Buckley, Eatonville, University Place, Sumner and South Hill Puyallup. Each unique site has its own cozy appeal. Every staff member is caring and encouraging. Watching the classroom full of three- and four-year-olds is heartwarming. Like a mother duck, they follow their teacher. In Orting for example, their interaction with teacher Peggy Baublits reminded me of the kindred spirit of Mrs. Kertin.  Peggy has nurtured children at Orting ECEAP for nine years while providing clear expectations that set no limitations on their abilities or potential.

In addition to teachers, all ECEAP sites have Family Support Workers (FSW). They assist families with parenting skills, healthy eating habits, community resources, vision screenings, and more to encourage families to take an active role in their child’s education. Mercedes, Orting’s FSW, identified two children this year with vision concerns and referred them to ophthalmologists. One child was prescribed glasses and the other continues with vision testing.

At each site I visited, I found the same familiar, kind, and nurturing environment where children are encouraged and challenged to be their best each day. Every child should have the joy of a Mrs. Kertin or Mrs. Baublits’ experience, and to carry that memory through their lifetime. 

I conclude with my recent experience at the Bonney Lake ECEAP site. There I had quite the encounter with two little boys which I recount here to give you a sense of the joy being a kid can be.

Me: “Hello” to two boys sitting at a table.
Boy One: Can you help me make Iron Man?
Me: GULP! Sure!
Boy Two: He can’t make Iron Man!
Me: I am going to try.
Boy One: Wow, that is cool as I roll out stick leg #1, then two, then a stick body, and arms.
Boy Two: That’s not Iron man!
Boy One: Yes it is! He just got to make his head better.
Me: As I make the head a bit more square and add eyes, mouth and ears.
Boy One: See!
Boy Two: That is really cool!
Me: Whew, thank you boys for your help!
Boy Two: Can you help me make Spiderman?

As you can see from the picture, even though my play dough making skills were put to the ultimate test building Iron Man, I succeeded.
Each day children in ECEAP are succeeding in learning new and different ways to be ready and successful in kindergarten. ECEAP is a needed tool to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. I’m proud to say that Pierce County ECEAP and its wonderful staff do make a difference!


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