In the mid-1990s, Central Washington experienced an influx of Mexican immigrants. Philip Garrison, who had lived and worked in Mexico for years, soon got to know some of these people. Because of his familiarity with both cultures, he understood the challenges they were facing. He and two recently arrived friends decided to start driving to Yakima to get food from Northwest Harvest and hand it out from the back of a pickup truck. Read his essay The Unforgettable Frozen Chicken Giveaway and What Ensued.
We join with CWU
In 1998, CWU president Ivory Nelson gave APOYO permission to operate out of the Old Hospital building, which the university was using as as storage facility. In 1999, APOYO was incorporated in Washington State, and, in 2000, obtained 501(C)(3) status. Our new status made us eligible for a state grant from the WSDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program. By this time, we had relocated to the Old Heat Plant on Central’s campus. The food bank became a joint endeavor between Central’s faculty, the MECha Club, and the local immigrant community.
APOYO has a history of activism, dating back to Philip Garrison’s role in organizing a grape boycott to support farm workers in 1969. Working with two local doctors and three nurses, APOYO helped found a free clinic that served to raise awareness of the need for low-income health care in Ellensburg. We provided transportation to and from treatment centers in Yakima. Before local service providers began hiring bilingual staff, we also acted as translators and helped people fill out forms.
In 2011, an ICE raid carried off 30 people to a detention center in Tacoma. One of the detainees was the daughter of one of our founders. With the help of various community groups, we bailed people out and brought them home. Of all the detainees, only one was ultimately found guilty of anything. But as a result, many immigrant families left the area.
In 2016, the Kittitas County Commissioners announced plans to demolish 58 low-income housing units in order to create an RV park. The move would have evicted 115 people from their homes. APOYO joined with CWU faculty and community leaders to help residents form a homeowners’ association and sue the county. The need for more low income housing has now become quite obvious, and plans to locate and build are underway.
Over the years, Central students have contributed thousands of hours of volunteer work. Many have their volunteer hours to classroom projects like the documentary below. APOYO offers internships and graduate study opportunities to Central students.
CWU faculty members have worked with APOYO since our founding. Many teach classes about Latinx culture, history, and politics. Others teach languages, including English as a second language (“ESL”). Some have published books and articles directly related to their work at APOYO. And, our clients’ children have gone on to enroll in university classes. Two have receive doctorates.
In 2010, through its Centro de Documentacion e lnvestigacion de las Artes, the office of the Secretariat of Culture of Michoacán, published Porque me faltan alas, a translation into Spanish of Philip Garrison’s book Because I Don’t Have Wings (University of Arizona Press, 2006). The translation was done by CWU Spanish Professors Stella Moreno and Nathalie Kasselis-Smith, both members of the APOYO community. The University of Arizona Press published Garrison’s next book, The Permit that Never Expires. Like its predecessor, Because I Don’t Have Wings, it was centered on the APOYO Food bank.