Student uses writing skills to help hungry

Kari Whitney     The stories compress long pain into brief paragraphs.
     Bill tore out both kneecaps in a car crash when he was a teenager. “The doctors, they put the bones in the wrong places.” He’s 58 now. He wants to work as much as possible. Social Security says he’s working too much, and cut his benefits.
     Patti is a disabled senior who fled her abusive husband. Her son fled too. “My son was found dead and we don't know how it happened.” Then her car was stolen.
     There’s Rosemary, who takes care of 13 grandchildren. And Paul, a laid-off locksmith. And Debbie and Steve, who retired and were living in their van on $504 a month: “We were eating, but not a lot.”
     There are 562,000 stories like these; that’s how many people are helped annually by FISH Food Banks of Pierce County.
     To help share those stories, WSU Global Campus student Kari Whitney wrote a series of short profiles for the food banks’ newsletter and social media, changing some of the names. Her efforts brought her a Community Involvement Award from WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement. More...      “I was surprised and honored,” Whitney said. “They're using my materials to illustrate the wide range of food insecurity in our community and to encourage people to donate food, money, and time.”
     Whitney was nominated by Emily Happy, the food banks’ director of development and communication.
     “There is an unfortunate stigma associated with hunger, poverty and needing to ask for help. All too often, we see people in the parking lot in tears, about to go into the food bank for the first time, totally overwhelmed,” Happy said. “Stories like the ones Kari captured put a face to hunger and help remove the stigma.”
     Whitney is a Tacoma resident majoring in humanities, and an ASWSU Global student senator. She volunteered as part of a human development course on families in poverty.
     “I was sent out to interview clients to help the food bank explain to potential contributors why people needed food,” she said. “And, wow, people need food! We discussed national food insecurity in class, but I was surprised by the diversity of circumstances that brought people to the food banks.”
     While WSU students bring university-level skills to community groups, said Erin McIlraith, the Center for Civic Engagement’s marketing and communication coordinator, the benefit is mutual. “Community organizations also provide a hands-on learning experience that students cannot get through standard coursework,” McIlraith said.
     Along with her community involvement, Whitney is also a senator in the online student government.
     “I thought this would be a clock-in, clock-out thing for me when I first signed into Blackboard. However, many classes include weekly discussion threads that require original posts and substantive replies, and I found that my classmates were real people with fascinating perspectives, and I wanted to interact with them more,” she said.
     “It was a natural progression to start attending webinars and Senate meetings and face-to-face events.”