Every year, the Auburn community gives away turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Now, that’s a good thing.
But it turns out that many Latino families who are on the receiving end of the community’s generosity haven’t the faintest idea how to prepare a turkey, which, after all, is a culinary oddball to the cultures in which they were raised.
So, with a scratching of heads and a puzzling of puzzlers, many of the families promptly stuff the birds into their freezers, where they remain, sometimes for years.
That’s not a good thing.
Especially for the students at Olympic Middle School, where up to 40 percent of them are Latino and many are on free-and-reduced lunch.
All that recently set Pilar Hunter — Family Engagement Liaison for Olympic Middle School and advisor to Latinos Unidos, the school’s Latino club — thinking not only about that dilemma, but also about the steep cost of buying the birds and all the spendy Thanksgiving tasties that accompany them to the table.
There just had to be a better way.
Meanwhile, members of the school’s Latinos Unidos Club were pondering with their advisor what they wanted to do for their annual spate of fall and Christmas do-good-stuff-for-the-community projects. Especially in a year when COVID-19 has barred the usual physical-presence activities like carols, or dancing for VRFA firefighters and cooking them homemade meals and baking them cakes and thanking them for their service.
“They said they really wanted to help families in need,” Hunter said. “So, I started looking for what we could do virtually, because we are not at school physically to do the stuff that we’ve done in the past. I thought it would be a much better way to serve our Latino community by giving them food they can cook every day than one meal on one day of the year.”
Fortunately, just then, Hunter heard about a young woman named Roxanne duBois Cull, who heads a project called Feed El Pueblo at Lake Burien Presbyterian Church. That’s where she and helpers assemble boxes of food staples for Latino families and put the boxes out once a week to meet the need in that community.
“I went to go check out what she was doing at this church in Burien, and the lines were incredible,” said Hunter. “I tried to work what it would cost to feed one family for a week, versus giving them one Thanksgiving meal, which is an American tradition, but not necessarily a tradition that they celebrate.”
And because Latinos are no more identical across their various cultures than New Yorkers are to Washingtonians, duBois Cull prepares one box for Mexican Latinos, a second for central American Latinos, and a third for Caribbean Latinos.
Every box of imperishable goods carries the same staples: beans and rice, oil, salt, coffee, corn, sugar, tea, oatmeal mix, pancake mix, flour,and corn starch. But if anyone wants the Mexican version, it offers tortillas, whereas the Caribbean box contains pasta noodles, coconut milk and other favorites.
“I showed the kids her video and an article, and they agreed it was something that they wanted to do, and could do,” said Hunter. “Now, they don’t have a lot to give except their time, so they made bilingual videos in English and Spanish to get the word out there to sponsors and shared the news with friends and family to make this happen.”
“I was really excited because Roxanne gave us the list of the stuff that she included in her boxes so we didn’t have to worry about figuring that out. She was very helpful. She donated 40 empty boxes, and she gave us all the spices and a check for $200 to start us off,” Hunter said.
Their first go at it, of course, would be Thanksgiving, then Christmas.
Thanksgiving turned out to be such a smash hit that the club is now talking about extending its effort to winter and spring breaks.
“We had a goal of 20 boxes for Thanksgiving and 20 for Christmas, but we way overshot it and gave away 44 boxes for Thanksgiving. So, we set a new goal of 50 boxes for families for Christmas,” said Hunter.
After the Thanksgiving roll out, the kids went to the houses of everyone who had provided food and monetary donations and handed them personal, handwritten notes thanking them. And when that was not possible, Hunter mailed the kids’ thank-you notes herself.
The boxes will be given out Dec. 18 at the back of the school during the kids lunchtime. Because of the virtual teaching format imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19, no youngsters will be there.
“If not for COVID-19, I would normally have kids doing this, but we have these parent volunteers, and they are so great about coming and helping,” said Hunter. “Without them advertising and putting in the effort, I couldn’t do this.”
Because there is COVID-19, Hunter has to assemble the boxes, wheel them from the cafeteria to the gym, and when Dec. 18 arrives, pass them out. The Auburn School District has allowed her to have two Kiwanis Club members to help pass out the boxes and take donations.
“All people have to do is drive up, pop open their trunk, and we’ll put it in the back. I have their names on a list because I want to make sure we have enough boxes, so I have asked people to mail me and all they have to do is ask me for a box,” said Hunter. “If we have more than 50, we’ll try and do more. If we get more donations we could possibly do this mid winter and spring break.”
Anyone who is interested in donating food or money to the cause may stop by Olympic Middle school between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. every week day. Otherwise, the money gets deposited with the Associated Student Body and Hunter uses it to buy bulk food items.
“The kids are beyond excited because they feel like they are doing something for their community during this time,” said Hunter.
“I feel really good about this because I like to do community service and help people in general. It makes me really happy,” said eighth-grader Sarai Sanchez, co-president of Latinos Unidos.