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FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – An organization in one Washington state city is bringing together diverse communities and breaking down barriers to food.

Louis Guiden founded Good Shepherd Youth Outreach in 2008 to mentor youth of color in Federal Way, a town north of Tacoma. When the pandemic hit last year, he said he found that a lot of families didn’t want to go to food banks or school districts for aid.

“It just felt like it was an oppressive model,” said Guiden. “A lot of information, ID requirements, bunch of paperwork. Now mind you, it’s a pandemic. So at that point we realized that, all of these kind of additional requirements, we wanted to remove those barriers.”

Guiden and Good Shepherd Youth Outreach set up Feeding Our Communities, a drive-through model for picking up food. He said more than 1,600 families have been picking up a week’s worth of healthy food every month since April of 2020.

Guiden said it’s been hard for Black and indigenous-led groups to lead on work like food access, noting that white-led nonprofits still get the bulk of funding for efforts in communities like his.

But Feeding Our Communities, which started by feeding Black and brown communities, has shown it’s valuable for a diverse group of Washingtonians.

It’s expanded to become a food hub for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and even Russian and Ukrainian families who had their own issues regarding the Black community.

Guiden said they’ve been able to build trust across cultures.

“They saw that we were relevant to them,” said Guiden. “The culture, the food, how we were serving them. So everything’s about presence.”

Guiden said another important aspect of the program is compensating youth working on it.

“Some of our youth actually have created a resume of logistics, communications, quality control, structure, project management,” said Guiden. “All those different skills.”

Guiden said the young people who help out get a stipend and also gain experience that is helpful when they head on to college or work.

Featured photo: In order to receive meals from the Feeding Our Communities program, about 120 cars line up every Thursday. (SeNata/Adobe Stock)