Covington Rotary partners with Grocery Outlet

Maple Valley residents Greg and Jessi Powell, own Kent location, help Backpack Buddies program

As Covington Rotary members work to help more hungry children in the community they are cementing more partnerships.

During the summer Jo Blyth, a member of the Covington Rotary Club, connected with Greg and Jessi Powell, the owners of Grocery Outlet in Kent. The Powells live in Maple Valley.

In October Blyth began shopping for items at the Kent Grocery Outlet for its Backpack Buddies program, which provides packs full of food on Fridays to students in need at Covington, Jenkins Creek, Cedar Valley, Crestwood and Grass Lake. On Mondays the children bring the empty packs back to school.

“It’s pretty unique, truthfully,” Greg Powell said. “Jo, she’s a great customer of ours. In speaking with her throughout the months, she had talked about this program. We’ve supported their auction in the past. So, we just began to build a relationship. Late this summer she spoke to me specifically about how we could help, what they currently do and what retailers they utilize.”

In an email in September, rotarian Carol Judd said the club now feeds 250 children in Covington area elementary schools, so partnerships such as the one with the Powells are critical.

And stretching the dollars raised at the club’s annual auction is vital as well, which is another benefit of the connection with Grocery Outlet. Powell described Blyth as a cost-conscious shopper.

During the first shopping trip in October, Powell said, Blyth and another woman who is the coupon clipping expert, purchased nearly $3,000 worth of groceries for about $1,700.

“It goes for a great cause,” Powell said. “They were able to put additional items in the backpacks because of our pricing. It also allows them to bring more youth on into the program. Then they didn’t have good transportation to get the product to the church where they store it so I deliver it two days in a row. That’s just part of the thing that makes us unique, being independently owned and operated it gives us that personal touch.”

Powell and his wife bought the Kent Grocery Outlet location in July 2011 when it relocated to a shopping center of 240th and 104th. Having come from a large retail company prior to purchasing a Grocery Outlet franchise, Powell said, one of the things he likes about this business model is the approach the company has in terms of community service.

“It’s just culturally different,” Powell said. “This organization is so family oriented and driven to help each community that we serve. It makes my wife and I to feel very good to be part of communities.”

Powell said the partnership does not stop with the shopping at Grocery Outlet. After attending a Rotary meeting the Powells donated $500 cash to the cause as another way to show their support for the program.

This all began when past president Kevin Holland came up with the idea and pitched it to the club. He first heard about a program in Texas like this and thought it would work well here.

Now different groups go to the Storehouse during the week and fill backpacks. Girl Scout troops, church members, Rotarians, teachers, to name a few. And the packs are filled with applesauce, boxed juices, peanut butter cracker sandwiches, and other items. It is important the backpacks are filled with items that are easy to open, prepare and eat since children as young as 6 years old take them home.

Children who take home backpacks on Fridays may not otherwise have food at home and a vicious cycle continues. When students are hungry, they struggle in school, but if they have food throughout the weekend and then eat at school during the week those issues seem to dissipate.

In the beginning, the rotary club worked with the Maple Valley Food Bank as well as The Storehouse, which is supported by a consortium of churches in the area. Both had facilities where they could pack and the staff at both food banks knew how to shop to get the most bang for Rotary’s buck.

With the addition of Grass Lake this year, the need is larger and the ability to stretch the money raised is critical, which is why the partnership with the Powells is so important.

“Their dollar stretched so much further which all goes to the kids,” Powell said. “And Jessi and I’s personal donation, as well, and we have full intention to continue that, as well, to show our personal commitment. We’re very energized and excited to continue to build our relationship with them, stay in communication and go to as many Rotary meetings as we can possibly go to, help in any way.”