The Renton Innovation Zone Partnership was just starting to gain momentum when the unexpected happened.
Just as schools were about to shutdown for what ended up being the rest of the year, the RIZP had it’s most-attended meeting ever for its Basic Needs Action Team. It gave the groups involved with RIZP the ability to create a foundation for what would be the multiple supports for families in Skyway and the Highlands— some being hit hardest during this pandemic.
“There was no way you could prepare for that. It was so sudden for everyone,” RIZP Executive Director Ryan Quigtar said of the shutdown.
But with the coordination of RIZP, which established itself just last Fall, partners have helped almost 12,000 families, and worked with over 600 volunteers.
One such partner is Urban Family, a nonprofit dedicated to building care and support for marginalized urban youth in the greater Seattle area in its 14th year. During this crisis, the organization has been distributing #SkywayCares care packages to apartment complexes in the Skyway-West Hill area.
Founder and CEO Paul Patu grew up in Rainier Valley and moved to Skyway with his parents when it was a predominantly white neighborhood. Skyway is now the community with the highest proportion of Black residents in the state, as of September 2019, at 24 percent. Patu has had an inside view of how the area has evolved and said it made his work at Urban Family second nature.
“For me (Skyway) is a special place. To be able to serve the youth and families here is an honor,” Patu said.
While other organizations were working on providing food and basic needs to the Skyway area, Urban Family noticed the lack of protective equipment (PPE) that residents had at the food pantries. With support of Boys and Girls Club – Skyway, Family First Community Foundation, Renton Community Foundation, World Vision International and the Safeway Foundation, Patu started creating the care packages. The packages include PPE, but also toys and other items to help residents remember there are people who care about them during this time of isolation.
He said the pandemic has tested the foundation of their work, but in some ways it’s brought communities closer together to figure out how to work across-sectors. As he sees nonprofits turn towards each other during this crisis— to support people at greatest risk— it gives Patu hope.
Other partners with RIZP include Somali Parent Education Board, Sunset Community Church, Communities in Schools-Renton Tukwila, Highlands Elementary, Somali Youth & Family Club and the Renton School District.
While RIZP started as a way to connect vulnerable families and students with support from outside-of-school organizations, the partnership has had to pivot to an active participant. With help from Renton School District, RIZP put together two food pantries for families, one out of Skyway and one ran in the Highlands with Sunset Community Church. RIZP has become so active it’s receiving an additional staffer to help with this work, Quigtar said.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the vision of this program but Quigtar’s grateful RIZP can offer financial resources and other supplies, such as PPE, for partners to hand out to those they’re working with.
“I’m really humbled by the presence of partners and the work they’re all doing. How we’re all showing up in different ways. I’ve learned a lot and it’s really been an all hands on deck effort,” Quigtar said.
RIZP is hosting a summer Curbside Resource Fair 1-4 p.m., Saturday July 11 at Renton Memorial Stadium. The Grab & Go event will include fresh food, PPE, giveaways, swag bags, kids activities and other free resources for families. For more information , visit rizpartnership.org.