The Giving Spirit

Throughout the South Sound, organizations, nonprofits, and community volunteers work hard to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. Whether putting food on the table or helping a kitten find its forever home, these people and organizations go above and beyond to make a difference in our community.

 Itty Bitty Kitty Committee

Laurie Cinotto’s blog, the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee, is more than just a landing page where visitors can feast their eyes on adorable felines. It’s a resource designed to help orphaned cats find forever homes.

Laurie and her husband, Craig, started fostering kittens in 2006, after meeting their next-door neighbors, Kim and Sarah, a pair of feline foster moms. Laurie quickly fell in love with the idea of fostering, and in no time she and Craig were hosting a litter of their own.

Fast forward 10 years and 52 litters later, and the Tacoma couple are on kitten number 210.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Laurie said. “We’re really lucky this is our life.”

The kittens they foster come from the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County just a few weeks after they’re born, and they foster them until they’re at least 10 to 12 weeks old. “They have to be 2 pounds and 2 months old to get spayed or neutered,” Laurie explained. Once the kittens are fixed, they’re eligible for adoption.

Laurie said rather than returning the kittens to the Humane Society, she coordinates the entire adoption process herself, inviting potential pet parents to her home for a kitty meet and greet. “If it feels like a good match — and it always has been — we let them pick their kitten and do all the paperwork,” Laurie said.

“The happy ending for us starts when we find a (kitten) a really great home,” she added.

Laurie said a lot of people reach out to her through her blog, which she keeps updated with photos. But those looking to adopt aren’t the only people visiting her page. Cat lovers from across the globe turn to the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee’s website simply to scroll through a seemingly endless feed of cute cat photos or to make a donation. Like Laurie, the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee’s followers are very generous when it comes to cats.

Eight years ago, she received a pamphlet from the Humane Society regarding its annual fundraising event, Dog-A-Thon. Laurie wanted to raise money for the animal shelter, so she made a post about the event on her blog. “I was going to try to raise $2,000,” she said. Money quickly started flowing in from donors all across the globe, and by the end of the day, she had already met her goal. By the end of the fundraiser, the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee had raised $23,000 for the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County.

“Every year it gets a little bigger and better,” she said. “Last season, we raised $117,000.” During the past eight years, the Itty Bitty Kitty Committee has raised a total of $750,000 for the Humane Society for Tacoma & Pierce County, funds that go toward supporting programs like the senior cat fund, emergency pet food bank, and other cat-related causes.

Laurie said it’s a good feeling knowing she’s helping the lives of cats, even the ones she’s not fostering.

When she isn’t cuddling and caring for her foster kittens, fundraising, or hosting feline-focused events like her recent kitten luncheon, she can be found speaking at cat conferences, penning books about stories from a real-life kitten wrangler, and playing with her resident cats, Charlene and Wyla.

Giving That Grows

It was decades ago that the Emergency Food Network formed in response to Tacoma and Pierce County’s rising need for low-income food assistance. Leaders from FISH Food Banks, Tacoma Rescue Mission, Salvation Army, and Associated Ministries organized the now decades-old nonprofit to serve as a central storage and distribution center for emergency food programs.

Courtesy Emergency Food Network via Facebook

Courtesy Emergency Food Network via Facebook

Since forming in 1982, Emergency Food Network has grown to provide 16 million pounds of food each year to 70 food banks, hot meal sites, and shelters serving low-income families across Pierce County. But when we say that this organization has grown, we mean literally.

Eighty-thousand pounds of the food that Emergency Food Network provides annually is plucked straight from the ground at its 8-acre Puyallup Valley farm, Mother Earth Farm.

Monday through Thursday, the farm is tended by inmates from the Washington Correctional Center for Women, while Friday and Saturdays are reserved for community members of all ages to put their green thumbs to the test.

Because the farm is entirely organic, volunteers never have to worry about exposure to harsh chemicals or fertilizers, and there’s always something delicious growing. With so many volunteers working the land, food from the farm can be delivered to local food banks within 24 hours of harvest, providing low-income families and individuals with the nutrient-rich foods.

A Toy for Every Tot

Courtesy Toy Rescue Mission

Courtesy Toy Rescue Mission

For more than 20 years, the Toy Rescue Mission in Tacoma has provided gently used, recycled, and refurbished toys to underprivileged children living in Pierce County. The nearly 100 percent volunteer-run organization was the idea of founder Karol Barkely and is currently managed by Toy Rescue Mission president Martha Davis.

While many organizations and nonprofits provide toys for disadvantaged kids, Davis said what differentiates the Toy Rescue Mission from similar organizations is that it’s open year-round. From January to December, the Toy Rescue Mission provides children with toys and other items for occasions of all kinds, including birthdays, Easter, and back to school.

The Toy Rescue Mission keeps its shelves stocked primarily thanks to donations from the community, but the nonprofit is always looking to partner with local businesses — and there’s always a need for gifts for the older kids. “My personal focus is always on 11- to 15-year-olds,” Davis said. Older kids grow out of toys quickly, and what’s age-appropriate for a 13-year-old may not be appropriate for an older kid, or vice versa.

Davis said iTunes gift cards, makeup, hair appliances, board games, and anything Seahawks is popular among teens.

Because the Toy Rescue Mission provides playthings to children of varying ages throughout the year, it’s no surprise that in 2015 the Toy Rescue Mission served 12,500 clients. “Since 2009, we’ve served no less than 11,000 families a year,” Davis said.

Davis said her job is challenging. “Seeing the faces of the children light up, that to me makes it rewarding,” she said.

Feel-Good Furniture

Enjoying a meal around the dining room table or reclining into a comfy chair after a long day may seem commonplace to the average person, but for people living at or below the poverty line, these everyday comforts are a luxury.

Photo by Shawn Kinney

Photo by Shawn Kinney

For victims of domestic abuse and families battling with the challenges that come from unemployment, natural disasters, transitional housing, and other difficult situations, the NW Furniture Bank is here to help.

Through the support of donations, community partnerships, and the NW Furniture Bank’s retail store, Hope Furnishings, NW Furniture Bank serves nearly 100 families each month, providing them with access to gently used furniture.

By providing local families in Pierce and South King counties with furniture and household items, NW Furniture Bank helps low-income families in our area live a little more comfortably.

Gig Harbor Man is a Super Volunteer

Family is at the center of Ken Kieffer’s world, but the retired attorney’s “family” extends far beyond his immediate one. His extended family includes the many lives he’s touched in his years of volunteering for nonprofit organizations both locally and abroad.

For the longtime Gig Harbor resident, giving back has always been a priority. But since Kieffer retired in 2011, volunteering has become his new full-time job.

Kieffer donates his time to various causes throughout the year, including the Special Olympics, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Make-A-Wish, and Susan G. Komen Puget Sound, just to name a few. He even flies himself across the globe to spend time with sick kids at the Children’s Hospital in Barlad, Romania. Giving is in his blood, and there is no distance too far to keep Kieffer from giving back to the causes he cares about.

Courtesy Juli Mcclave

Ken Kieffer with Violet (left) and Shenay Spataro to celebrate Ken’s 300th granted wish. Ken helped grant Violet’s wish to go to Disneyland in 2013. (Courtesy Juli Mcclave)

In March, Kieffer will travel to Vienna and then Ramsau, Austria, where he will be one of five delegation liaisons for the USA Special Olympics team at the Special Olympics World Winter Games. “I served in that type of capacity for the Slovenia Special Olympics team at the European Special Olympics Summer Games in Antwerp and Brussels, Belgium, in September 2014, and for the Ireland Special Olympics team in Los Angeles for the July 2016 Special Olympics World Summer Games.”

No matter where in the world, Kieffer will travel near or far to give back.

“When folks ask why I volunteer as much as I am blessed to do, I always ask that they try giving back to a cause they love, just once — and they will discover the deep feelings of joy and enrichment that always overwhelm me.”

While Kieffer doesn’t like to bask in the limelight, this past October he was recognized nationally by Make-A-Wish as the National Wish Volunteer of the Year. A true unsung hero, Kieffer and his good deeds don’t go unnoticed.

Glass That Gives Back

Courtesy Hilltop Artists in Residence, via facebook

Courtesy Hilltop Artists in Residence, via facebook

More than 20 years ago, famed glass artist Dale Chihuly partnered with Kathy Kaperick to found Hilltop Artists, an organization dedicated to steering children from diverse backgrounds away from violence and delinquency toward art.

The program got its start in the former woodshop at Jason Lee Middle School and has since grown to include two additional sites in Tacoma, with a hot shop at Wilson High School and a flame-working studio at Ford Middle School.

Hilltop Artists currently serves more than 500 students each year, providing tuition-free glass instruction to youth ages 12 to 20.

Food Connection

St. Leo Church’s Food Connection program got its start in a Hilltop garage back in 1982. But don’t let this food program’s humble beginnings fool you. From its small start to today, the Food Connection has served thousands of families throughout the community. With an annual budget of $600,000 and assistance from donations and community volunteers, Food Connection is able to provide meals to low-income families across Tacoma.

St. Leo Food Connection director Kevin Glackin-Coley has been with the program since 2005 and said his favorite part about working there is the opportunity to be creative in how the Food Connection gets food to those in need — especially when he and his team are able to divert food that would otherwise go to waste to the Gleaning Project, a program coordinated by Harvest Pierce County.

Courtesy St. Leo Food Connection, Via Facebook

Courtesy St. Leo Food Connection, Via Facebook

Whether stocking a kid’s backpack with food for the weekend or providing the groceries necessary for Thanksgiving dinner, the Food Connection helps ensure that local families and children are well-fed.

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is a staff writer at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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