The Sage Connection

Meet Elizabeth McDaniel – A True Hometown Hero

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About a year and a half before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, when she was around the age of 40, Army veteran Elizabeth McDonald and her children began building ‘sharing gardens’ in front, back and side yards. Her plan was a simple one – to help provide food to those who needed help stretching their food budget.

“In May 2019, my kids and I created [what was then called] Food is Free Olympia. Our first summer we built 8 sharing gardens around the Olympia/Lacey area. They quickly added an additional 5 sharing spots to the FiFO ranks,” explained McDaniel.

They next set to work to plan gardens for 2020 – then COVID-19 hit. When the pandemic closed businesses and schools, distribution of farm products became a problem and many farmers were faced with the possibility of tilling under crops. 

“It became apparent that the immediate need had to become our primary focus, with the sustainability of building sharing gardens a very close second,” McDaniel said.

In May 2020, McDaniel met Zsofia Pasztor, the magic behind Farmer Frog in Woodinville. “With the help of Zsofia, our amazing volunteers have been able to move an astounding 362,000 pounds of food through Thurston and Lewis counties,” said McDaniel.

Many of those volunteers are seniors and several of those seniors are members of the Olympia Host Lions Club. 

It began with several Lions members joining in a caravan to pick and return with produce and dairy products. By the return trip, the club felt there had to be a better way to move more quantities.

With the help of a donation from Plumb Fit, a Kent-based plumbing contractor, to cover the cost of a 26-foot rental truck and gas to and from Woodinville, the Lions volunteers returned from the next trip with over 17,000 pounds of food – enough for 300 families.

The need was clearly there, so the next step was a commitment to fund the truck and accompanying costs from October 2020 until June 2021, when the program would be re-evaluated according to the status of the pandemic at that time.

In early 2021 there was a name change from Food is Free Olympia to Food Freedom South Salish. Other changes were taking place also.

Recently the USDA canceled the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. However, USDA plans to combat hunger through other means, including a new dairy donation program, a fresh produce box program, school meal programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and more. So, the deliveries will go on.

Other groups have stepped up to help with hunger programs in Thurston County and McDaniel states “the Olympia/Lacey area is now saturated, while smaller surrounding communities are being left out. Food Freedom South Salish is shifting their focus to these communities.”

While there is no age limit to receive food boxes, McDaniel is very much aware that some seniors may be too proud, embarrassed or unaware that this program even exists, to ask for help.

If you know of any homebound seniors needing food assistance or who would like to volunteer for this community service, contact Elizabeth McDaniel at Food Freedom South Salish on  Facebook.

Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia.  Contact her at  kathleen@theJOLTnews.com or post your comment below. 

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