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Congregations, agencies collaborate in ecumenical outreach to neighborhood

Tracie Swanson guides Our Place Community Ministries as it serves West Central neighbors.

Our Place is a hub for congregations and agencies to collaborate to be sure people in the West Central Spokane neighborhood have food, bus passes, utility assistance, hygiene items, clothing, laundry, housing and more.

Director Tracie Swanson said transportation is key for people, so Our Place has boosted their transportation program from providing two-hour to all-day-bus passes, to offering four- to six-months of monthly bus passes for people who are newly employed or in substance abuse treatment.

“Transportation is the link between prosperity and poverty.  It’s the means to access jobs, health services and food,” she said.  “West Central is a food desert with no grocery stores.”

Half of the clients walk to Our Place at 1509 W. College Ave.

Tracie said every time an individual receives services, it costs $13.50 beyond the value of donated food, clothing, hygiene and other items.

Of 80 volunteers on the roster, about 20 help each day Our Place is open.  Eight are new neighbors at Kendall Yards and the Summit, new housing a block behind it.  Many come from the 10 supporting churches.

Tracie gave a tour of Our Place.

A part-time employee supervises the laundry center, which has three washers and four dryers.  People sign up to do laundry.  Our Place provides detergent.

“In 2008, we asked clients what they needed and learned many did laundry in tubs and sinks,” said Tracie.

Pete and Ruth Hinz of St. Joseph parish volunteer regularly.

Volunteers Ruth and Pete Hinz of St. Joseph Catholic Parish on Dean, help sort and repackage detergent, soaps, hygiene items, diapers and more.

Ruth puts toothbrushes, toothpaste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, tissue, hand soap, lotion, toilet paper, shampoo, deodorant, lip balm, and hand and toe warmers into plastic bags for homeless men and women. Our Place gave out 1,358 bags in 2014.

Supermarkets give large broken bottles of soap, detergent and other liquids.  Ruth pours them into water bottles to give out.

She also prepares layettes with two newborn outfits, baby wipes, receiving blankets, 20 diapers and quilts from the Salem Lutheran Quilters. 

In a larger room, people select from boxes of fresh produce on a table.  Supermarkets and specialty shops provide day-old bread and bags with food donations.

Our Place distributes food provided by both Second Harvest and Northwest Harvest.  The Second Harvest food is for West Central Spokane residents. 

Volunteers prepare boxes with 20 pounds of food from all the food groups, the allotment per person. 

People give food generously during the winter, but in summer, the food bank sometimes closes early, because it runs out of food.

“We prepare food packs for homeless people, too,” she said.

Our Place receives fewer canned and boxed goods, because Second Harvest supplies more fresh food.  Our Place volunteers teach cooking classes there once a week, so people learn how to cook food they receive.

People in the class cook and eat meals there, and take them home.

In the back hallway, there’s a table with two chairs, where Nolan Wallace and Jim Mullin offer Veterans and Veterans Families Resources.  That program, which started in September, is part of a new nonprofit, Veteran Pathways.  They are also at New Hope, and they will open other outlets.

“We let veterans take advantage of their rights and services for them,” said Nolan, who came to Spokane from New Orleans to live with his daughter.

“Veterans are often missing in action in America because they do not know what resources are available,” he said.

Volunteers sort clothing at Our Place

Further down the hall are shelves with books for clients.

Across the hallway, a room stores coats from Coats for Kids, sleeping bags, tents, backpacks and blankets for homeless people.  They recently gave 427 coats to families, 69 to single men and 77 to single women.

The next room is the clothing bank.  Many volunteers make it possible.  Some sort clothing in a sorting room at the back, weeding out items that are soiled to sell for 10 cents a pound to Gemtext Recycling, a Northwest-based company recycling textiles.  Our Place sends them 700 to 800 pounds a month.  With those funds, Our Place buys men’s socks, underwear and T-shirts.

People outside the area can come once a month for clothing.  West Central residents can come once a week.

Another room has household necessities, like pots and pans, to help people restart.  People released from the City County Jail at night come to Our Place in the morning for clothing, food, bus passes and household items.

In an activity room, volunteers were sorting new clothing, toys and other items for its Christmas Give-A-Way in mid-December. Providence Sister Lilly Mae Emert and Joyce Miller of Knox Presbyterian Church were helping with sorting.    About 100 people came to pick up gifts for their 500 family members.

The activity room is also used for a cooking class and is where children have a snack and activities while parents select food, clothing, necessities and services.

Tracie grew up in North Idaho, moving to different communities when her father was transferred with work at different bank branches.  Her grandparents were married at St. Joseph’s on Dean.

After earning a degree in journalism at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Tracie worked two years with Hawaii Pacific University student and military newspapers before moving to Spokane in 1995.  She worked with the Journal of Business in graphics, with Tomlinson Black in marketing and with the Travel Guide Magazine.

In 2005, she volunteered with the YWCA and reconnected with West Central Spokane. In 2009, she came to Our Place as development director.  In 2012, when Sr. Ann Pizelo, SNJM, retired, Tracie became director.

“There’s a lot of responsibility, heartache and sadness in this work with people in poverty,” said Tracie. 

Many need utility assistance, because the old neighborhood homes have little or no insulation.

“The Holy Names Sisters have done much work with Our Place, helping with finances, as volunteers, on our board and more,” said Tracie, who grew up Catholic.

Our Place began as an ecumenical ministry.  The 10 supporting churches have members and clergy on the board.  They are St. Joseph, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Augustine Catholic; Westminster, Knox and Emmanuel Presbyterian; Christ Central, the West Central Episcopal Mission, and Salem Lutheran, and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

The churches formed Our Place in 1987 after realizing each was besieged with requests for food, clothing and hygiene items.  They decided to pool their resources and started Our Place in a house beside Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.  Peggy Sammons was director for many years and then worked with Sr. Ann. 

In 2000, they found their present building.  When a final balloon payment was due in 2006, Our Place closed for two weeks.  Then a woman gave a bequest for the amount due.  Holy Names sisters also helped.  The building was remodeled in 2007 and 2008 with Gates and Murdock grants.

“With the economy improving, the number of people we serve has dropped from 18,000 a year in 2012, to 17,000 in 2013, to 15,000 in 2014.  These figures include people who come back month to month,” she said.

Work crews from businesses and churches come to paint, maintain and clean the building.

Our Place is in one of the five poorest neighborhoods in the state. 

“We’re a safety net, helping people know someone cares and will help,” she said.  “We see some people many times, so we know them when they come.  The people come in, sit down to visit and have coffee.

Volunteers treat clients with respect and dignity,” she said. 

“People in need are kind.  They usually take only what they need, not more,” Tracie said. 

With its many volunteers and in kind gifts, Our Place runs on an annual budget of $200,000, raised from individuals, grants, churches and organizations.

Our Place is open from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  It receives donations from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. those days.

For information, call 326-7267 or email or visit

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