Nov 29, 2018

A recent class offered by Washington Park neighborhood leaders on how to make tamales was such a huge success, the crowd overflowed a space at The Salvation Army outpost, 825 W. Alder St., said J. Andrew Rodriguez. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my three years as director of Commitment to Community. The gathering represents community engagement at its best,” Andrew added. C2C is with Blue Mountain Action Council.

“I think the neighborhood leaders are still stunned by the success of the event,” he added. Those same leaders are planning their annual Christmas party. Some dozen experts led the hands-on course on how to produce the Mexican delicacy. The experts fanned out to teaching tables in the packed space. About 35 community members of all ages participated while, unfortunately, another eight people were turned away for lack of room. 

The novices worked alongside the masters of all ages to practice and learn nuances of making masa, spreading it on a corn husk and wrapping it around the filling. Masa dough is made from corn flour and used to make tortillas and tamales. “It’ll take you a few tries,” hollered Annay Cardenas, who led the first part of the class. The 19-year-old will soon be attending Walla Walla Community College and hopes to become a travel nurse and explore other medical careers. “Walla Walla is a diverse community, and it was nice to see that people wanted to learn about the Mexican food culture,” she said. “It was amazing to see people try their best at making something new to them.”

Several methods are used to produce tamales, including abuela (grandmother) style, as coined by Deborah Peters. Her husband, Scott, was impressed with the class and appreciated “all the wonderful local experts who took time to share their expertise with us.” Various gradations of heat create good tamales. “Eyebrows raised in unison at tables when plates were brought out with spears of jalapeños to add to the filling,” Andrew said.

Because making tamales is time consuming, the expert cooks worked into the night the previous day to prepare several dozens ready to cook. During class, they prepared tamales — some spicy hot — that were cooked on the patio using a gas grill. The best part came at the culmination when attendees enjoyed cooked tamales fresh out of the steamer, Andrew said.

The class was a hit with attendees, many asking when the next class would be offered and suggesting instruction in making pozole (a traditional hominy soup or stew), enchiladas, chicken mole, tortillas and breakfast tacos. “Given the reaction, it’s a safe bet more Mexican cooking classes will be offered soon,” Andrew said. 

The success of the event was also due to the collaboration with Salvation Army Capts. Demetrio and Magda Villarreal, who graciously offered the neighborhood leaders the use of their facility’s demonstration kitchen, Andrew said

C2C works in Washington Park to build the capacity of residents to improve their neighborhood by developing their leadership skills and helping to expand their social capital. 

Published in the Union-Bulletin 11/14/18

When it came to fundraising for school children, Doubleback Winery found success in its library.

The Walla Walla winery raised $27,158 for the Blue Mountain Action Council’s Backpack Bridge Program by tapping a “Library of Wines For a Cause” benefit.

All of the money from the sale of wines is donated to the program that provides nonperishable meals to school children in need as they head home for the weekend.

Each standard Backpack Bridge bag provides four meals, stuffed discreetly in the student’s backpack, each Friday before the children head home for the weekend.

Doubleback’s contribution will fund 6,800 Friday packs and help expand the program to local middle schools.

The library wine fundraiser was sent out to the Drew Bledsoe-owned winery’s mailing list members. Those members had the chance to purchase the special wines throughout the week of Oct. 22.

“In our own community, we have witnessed and learned of the simple, yet so important, need for meals in the Walla Walla Valley,” stated winemaker and General Manager Josh McDaniel in the offer.

The weekend program got started last year as an extension of a food program that provided sustenance for students over holiday breaks. But the nonprofit BMAC discovered it wasn’t enough. The agency sought out funding for a more formalized weekend backpack program.

New funding is needed each year to provide food for the 292 elementary school children who access the program.

“Doubleback’s understanding of the need and resourceful fundraising will make a significant impact on our ability to continue this program for the 2019 school year,” said Tracy Parmer, who leads development and outreach for BMAC. “We’re so inspired by their generosity and dedication to feeding our future.”

Volunteer opportunities, including building and delivering backpacks, are available through the food bank.


Story From the Union Bulletin, September 28, 2018

A federal grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture could pave the way for a new “food hub” in the area.

Blue Mountain Action Council has been awarded $133,566 as part of the USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program Grant.

The funds will take the nonprofit and its partners through an 18-month study, exploring the creation of a joint operation that combines the food bank with agricultural partners distributing fresh produce and other possible uses.

The grant period begins Monday.

BMAC Food Bank Director Jeff Mathias said the goal is to bring together the common value shared between his agency and that of farm-to-food providers serving the region, “getting more local fresh produce in the arms of the community.”

Ultimately the goal of the program grant is to obtain a warehouse, cooler, processing equipment and freezer space so more agricultural products are available for consumption, especially through institutions and retailers.

“Cultivating a stronger local food economy is expected to create jobs, invigorate small farms and businesses, and keep dollars circulating in our regional community,” the announcement explained.

The Food Bank, Mathias said, is at capacity for equipment. It’s happened at the same time the operation considers how to expand partnerships with fresh food producers.

BMAC is the lead agency for the Walla Walla Food Systems Coalition, a partnership of producers, consumers, distributors and supporters in Walla Walla, Columbia and Umatilla counties.

According to the announcement, 10 regional organizations have committed to supporting the study and helped fulfill the 25 percent match requirement.

Those are: Arrowleaf Consulting, Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, Walla Walla’s Harvest Foods, Port of Columbia, Sustainable Living Center, Walla Walla County Conservation District, Walla Walla Grown, Walla Walla Valley Farm to School, Walla Walla Valley Food Coalition and the WSDA Regional Markets Program.

Arrowleaf will lead the study process. Mathias said partners will likely meet next week to begin to map out how to move forward.

Community input will be vital to that process, he said.

“That’s the way this thing is going to get shaped,” he emphasized.

Participants will need to find the best location to serve the public needs, which isn’t necessarily Walla Walla.

Another crucial component will be finding operations that can serve the profit center.

“An issue for a food hub getting off the ground is making sure it’s financially stable,” he said.

Ideas to explore could be some kind of processing. The space could also provide training for culinary skills or even exploring how to participate in waste reduction or composting.

The grant period runs through March 2020.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8

Story by: 
  •  September 25th, 2018

Contrary to commonly held belief, small groups and individuals can make a difference. Residents in the Blue Ridge neighborhood are a good example.

They advocated for a paving project, the results of which they found cause to celebrate.

Seventeen of the residents met 14 months ago for a front yard potluck on Lowden Street. City Manager Nabiel Shawa and City Councilmember Steve Moss joined the group to talk about the neighborhood’s needs, said J. Andrew Rodriguez, director of Commitment to Community with Blue Mountain Action Council, in a release.

High among their concerns was a nearby dirt road rife with potholes along the railroad tracks. Children walking to and from Blue Ridge Elementary School travel that route. Residents stressed the children were forced to slog through mud and water on that road in rainy weather.

A public transportation van also contended with the potholes, Andrew said.

Residents attended a City Council meeting to request assistance with neighborhood needs.  

After completion of the paving project, the neighbors gathered on Sept. 8 to celebrate completion of the paving project that resulted from their advocacy.

At the celebration neighborhood leaders, Javier Garcia and Selma Castillo addressed guests during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Both thanked neighborhood residents and project partners.

The Sherwood Trust and city of Walla Walla collaborated with C2C to make the project a reality.  

Approximately 50 residents from all three neighborhoods where C2C works attended the celebration. Also attending were Nabiel, Councilmember Riley Clubb, city representatives from the fire, police and parks and recreation departments and representation from Walla Walla Public Schools.

C2C builds grassroots leadership in neighborhoods and develops the capacity in people to reach their goals and dreams, Andrew said.

A recent management and occupancy review of Blue Mountain Senior Housing by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office resulted in a superior rating. 

The inspection, which took place in mid-June reviewed the safety, cleanliness, and maintenance of this BMAC housing until. In a letter from the West Regional Director, it states" Your dedication to maintaining decent, safe and sanitary housing is evident in the Superior rating the project has received. We value your role in furthering the Department's goal to preserve affordable housing."

Affordable, safe housing is a pillar at BMAC. We appreciate all our team members for contributing to this success!


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