Hope and healing in the Orting Valley

Last year, 11.4 million Americans aged 12 or older reported misusing opioids.

Drug addiction is an issue that affects everyone, even here at home. In Pierce County, from 2007 to 2017, the number of opioid-related deaths rose to 833. The Orting Valley, which includes Sumner, Puyallup, Bonney Lake, Buckley, and Eatonville, has witnessed an acute problem of addiction for a long time, but in 2017, after a series of fatal overdoses, the community realized it was time for change.

After a year of planning and preparation, recovery has finally come to communities in East Pierce County. The weekend before Thanksgiving, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the grand opening of the Recovery Café Orting Valley. The event kicked off with speakers whose support has been key to this project, then was followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony and an open house tour with refreshments, food, love, and laughter.

Dennis Paschke, Executive Director of Recovery Cafe Orting Valley, and Killian Noe, Founder of Recovery Cafe, embrace in celebration of the ribbon cutting

Recovery Cafés are based on a model of building relationships, compassion and support. They help men and women who are traumatized by homelessness, addiction, and other mental health challenges. It is a refuge for hope and healing that started in Seattle and now Orting is the most recent addition. People who want to seek help from Recovery Café must become members and be clean and sober for at least 24 hours.

Killian Noe, Founder of Recovery Café, says that “one of the most important lifelines at the heart of this recovery café is the deep understanding that everyone that comes here will be a contributor to the healing of others.” Recovery cafés are different from traditional human service agencies because members don’t just come to receive services, they come to receive and give.

“All over the US, in every town and city, there are people that have fallen into holes. The hole of addiction, depression, other mental health challenges. The holes of loneliness, isolation. When several people overdosed, instead of being paralyzed by the pain, you allowed it to mobilize you. You leaned into the pain and crawled into the hole and through your broken hearts, this amazing, compassionate, loving, healing, response has been given.” -Killian Noe

The Fantastic Four! From left: Killian Noe, Dawn Paschke (Board Member), Dennis Paschke, and Cami Kasmerchak (Recovery Cafe Seattle Network Impact Coordinator)

And boy, are there ways to give back! Members can work in the community garden, engage in recovery circles, and help support others through training programs. At the event, I met so many people who were selflessly donating their time and energy to celebrate this milestone. That service mentality is a direct reflection of the Recovery Café model.

Dennis Paschke, the Executive Director of Recovery Café Orting Valley, has lived experience and began his own journey to recovery 15 years ago. He describes the aftermath of the pain felt by the Orting community after the string of fatal overdoes in 2017 as a transformation. “When our hearts were broken, we came together. There is this power of transformation that rises up within us and allows something like this to happen. Today is about opening doors of a place of unconditional love and acceptance and hospitality. And where people wrestling with addiction will find a place where they belong.”

Dennis Paschke and I inside the Recovery Cafe Orting Valley. The space includes an office, group room, and kitchen. It looks outstanding!

Across our state we are seeing the terrible effects of heroin and prescription narcotics on our families, friends and communities. I think we all know somebody that is affected by drug addiction. The statistics are staggering, but there are people out there who need our support and want help. It can take time to rise out of the darkness and overcome tragedy, and what the people in the Orting Valley have demonstrated through the opening of this café is nothing short of amazing.

“Today is a great day for everybody who has been stigmatized, judged, called ‘those people’ or not been given a place at the table. Today is a great day because in this valley we open the doors of a place that’s a refuge of healing and hope that undeniably has changed lives of many, many people.” – Dennis Paschke

Now, people in the area suffering from drug addiction will have resources that are close to home, without having to travel far for treatment. I am confident that the Recovery Café in Orting, though smaller in size and membership, will be as strong as its counterparts in Tacoma, Seattle and beyond. What I’ve found at other recovery cafes is that people do matter, and people are truly loved. I can see that.

The Recovery Cafe Orting Valley sits behind the United Methodist Church in Orting, WA.

Lives and families will be saved from the devastation of addiction because of this place. All human beings are precious, worthy of love and belonging, and deserve opportunities to fulfill their potential regardless of past trauma, mental or emotional anguish, addictive behaviors, and mistakes they’ve made. At recovery café, the community fosters stability, healing and recovery. Without ongoing support, the challenge to maintain stability, mental health, employment, relationships, housing, and breaking cycles of destruction is nearly impossible.

I look forward to better things to come.






Recovery Café Orting Valley is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. –  4:30 p.m. It is located at 113 Varner Avenue SE in Orting, behind the United Methodist Church. For more information, contact 360-208-8018.

Food for Thought

One in seven people in Washington state lacks access to food sufficient for a healthy and active lifestyle. In Pierce County, about 1.3 million visits are made to food pantries and meal sites every year. More than half of these visits to emergency food programs are on behalf of children and seniors.

The Pacific Northwest is known for its often rainy and wet weather, but did you know many of us are living in food deserts? A food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food, and typically has low-income residents. Food deserts lack grocery stores, farmers markets, and healthy food providers.

Without reliable transportation, heading to the store for your next meal is not easy. Maybe you can afford a car or money for the bus, but how far away is the store?  Sometimes the price of getting to a meal is more expensive than the meal itself. Unfortunately, these are the realities that many families in Pierce County face each day.

According to a Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department report, much like cities across the United States, the food landscape of Tacoma has dramatically changed over the past fifty years. People in neighborhoods that previously had multiple grocery stores, bakeries, taverns, drug stores, and meat markets owned by long-time community residents are now dependent on one grocery store or a commute to the nearest supermarket miles away.

The green areas show low-income areas where residents are more than 1 mile (urban) and 10 miles (rural) from the nearest supermarket.

Low-income communities often have the highest density of fast-food restaurants, the fewest high-quality grocery stores, the fewest safe physical activity opportunities, and the highest density of alcohol and tobacco merchants and advertising. Healthy eating and active living are the foundations to prevent obesity, but not everyone has the same opportunities for exercise and healthy food.

With the holidays approaching, Pierce County Human Services wanted to give back to the community with a food drive. The first week, staff collected over 248 cans of food. Enough to feed a family of 4 for 2 weeks. The second week we collected pet food, totaling 93 cans and 6 bags. Enough to feed 2 dogs and 10 cats for 3 weeks. During the third week, we collected 4 boxes of Kleenex and 124 rolls of paper towels and toilet paper. Enough paper products to last a family of 4 for two months. During the final month of October, we collected 77 items that included soup, pasta, cereal, baby food, peanut butter, and baking ingredients. In total, our team collected 459 pounds of food and necessities for families in the County.

I am very proud of the Human Services team for their compassion and kindness, but it started me thinking, what else can we be doing to make healthy food more accessible for our community? Who else is working to feed Pierce County? During our quest to donate as many items as possible, we came across WSU Pierce County Extension, a contractor with The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) SNAP Program.

The Supplement Nutritional Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed for short, provides community-based nutrition education for adults and families in fun and impactful ways. One of the workshops WSU Extension provides is called Eating Smart, Being Active, and it’s a 9-week series where participants prepare healthy meals, learn about nutrition, and how to shop smart.

Another workshop is, Plan, Shop, Save, Cook. During four lessons, families learn how to save time and money, while discovering ways to plan nutritious meals, and tips for stretching food dollars throughout the month! Participants receive incentives and other goodies such as a grocery bag, kitchen utensils, a magnetic shopping list, or a cookbook. Both workshops are designed for residents who are SNAP eligible, but do not necessarily have to be receiving food assistance benefits.

Graduates of SNAP-Ed free education series “Plan, Shop, Save, Cook”

SNAP-Ed targets anyone living below the federal poverty level, and offers programs for youth, families and adults. Youth programs encourage students and their families to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods and low-fat dairy and to balance food consumption with physical activity to maintain a healthy weight.

Adult series and single events are offered at a variety of community-based locations such as Food Banks and distribution sites, affordable or transitional housing sites, and at the WSU Extension Office in the Pierce County Human Services Soundview Building. They emphasize portion size and the importance of physical activity. The best part about these workshops? Classes are at no cost to participants!

Chuck runs a food cooking demonstration at a Nourish Food Bank
SNAP-Ed employee Mattie manages a station at St. Leo’s Food Connection with free samples, ingredients, and recipes for food bank shoppers.

SNAP-Ed often sends representatives to food banks for cooking demonstrations. They take common items found at food banks and create delicious meals that are easy to make and affordable. This not only helps shoppers broaden their culinary horizons and step outside their comfort zone by trying new foods, but it also helps foster a sense of community and belonging between shoppers and volunteers. Another way that SNAP-Ed helps reach people who need food assistance is by creating items in different languages, so more people can access food and communicate needs to volunteers.

SNAP-Ed is just one of the amazing programs that help reduce hunger and food insecurity in Pierce County. We know that chronic hunger and malnutrition prevents children from reaching their full potential, affecting their health, ability to learn in school, and future economic prosperity. A lack of nutritious food also makes seniors more susceptible to health issues. Pierce County Aging and Disability Resources is proud to offer nutrition and food resources for seniors, especially farmers market vouchers to low-income seniors each spring. (We gave out 2,130 in 2018!)

Visit SNAP-Ed online for recipes, activities for children, money-saving ideas, and time-saving tips. If you are living below the federal poverty line and want to see if you qualify for SNAP-Ed benefits, or are a business that would like to host a SNAP-Ed demonstration, contact the WSU Extension Pierce County SNAP-Ed Program Manager Linda Mathews, at 253-798-7154.

Find a food bank near you.

Want to learn more about food access in the United States? Check out the USDA Economic Research Service Atlas.