By Thomas Costigan
For nearly four decades, the GreenHouse Community Center has helped area residents meet some of the challenges caused by various economic downturns and a recent COVID pandemic.
Started in partnership with the Zion Lutheran Church in 1987, the modest non-profit group, under the direction of Joleen Schuler, served mainly as a food bank in the early years.
A short time after its formation, the GreenHouse and the east Crawford Avenue church severed its partnership. The decision forced the food bank, which now offered utility bill assistance and counseling services, to relocate.
The center now under the supervision of Susan Peterson found a new home on east First Street (the current site of the Tire Clinic). The GreenHouse eventually moved to a couple of different locales on west Crawford Avenue before it purchased a building on north Fir Street in June 2011.
Over the next decade the building served as a food bank and the GreenHouse’s administrative offices. A short time later a food storage warehouse was constructed on the property.
Aided by a legion of volunteers, the GreenHouse is open three afternoons a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays). Clients can obtain bread and produce (part of the Grocery Rescue program) once a week and non-perishable food items (supplied by various government programs and Grocery Rescue) once a month.
Grocery Rescue is a food donation program partnered with area grocery stores. Other food donation partners include 2nd Harvest and Northwest Harvest.
The GreenHouse also offers various household, beauty and personal hygiene items on an availability basis.
Peterson eventually retired in June 2018 and was replaced by Melanie Allen, whose tenure ended in 2022.
Following Allen’s departure, the Greenhouse Board of Directors hired Elizabeth “Libby” Fitzgerald as the new director. Born in Texas into a military family (her father, Doug, was an Air Force officer), she lived in various parts of the United States along with a brief time in England. She later attended college in California before working for various non-profit organizations in the Yakima area. Fitzgerald later moved to the Spokane area to live closer to her oldest son.
During her first 15 months at her new job, Fitzgerald has had to manage a situation where the GreenHouse has taken on a more vital role in the community. The demand for food and other economic services, fueled by the aftereffects of the pandemic and virulent inflation, continues to grow.
Over the past year the GreenHouse has seen new clients almost everyday it is open. It was not unusual for the number of households serviced on a daily basis to surpass 40. In recent months that daily number has topped 50 clients. Fitzgerald is confident the GreenHouse will be able to meet the increased demand in the coming months.