by Amanda Ong
“Kindness goes a long way. Every small act of kindness has a ripple effect. Do what you can with what you have, with where you are, and feel blessed doing it,” said Yvette Dinish, founder and executive director of the Colored Girls Garden Club, in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald.
Dinish, who grew up in South Seattle, didn’t realize what she was creating when she started the Colored Girls Garden Club. Before the pandemic, Dinish and a friend had been taking a class on soil and water stewardship training, in which they were encouraged to come up with a project after the course. The friend, whom Dinish had known since childhood, coined the name “Colored Girls Garden Club” at the same time Dinish began renting a storefront close to Rainier Beach’s worker-owned restaurant Jude’s. With a spirit of generosity, Dinish called her storefront the “gathering space” and began to use it as a free food pantry every Thursday and Saturday.
Now, the Colored Girls Garden Club is going into its third year. While its members don’t garden, they work closely with local gardens and other partners to supply free food — about 10 partners in total. Some partners include Restore & Repair Missionary Outreach, Northwest Harvest Emergency Feeding Program, and Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands. The opportunity to supply free food arose during the beginning of the pandemic and has continued steadily since. These suppliers give Dinish their extra food to offer at free shopping days, and everyone is welcome.
“[They] don’t have to prove income, we only have them sign their [first] name,” Dinish said. This list of names is simply used to keep the organization accountable and support grant and fundraising efforts. “We are minimizing waste, or eliminating it altogether, because there’s enough to go around. What’s been a hard sell is getting people who are not broke to shop. It’s not just for those who live on the streets. … The more people we have in this flow of circling the abundance, the more it comes back to the people who need it.”
The result is an open array of beautiful vegetables, fresh coffee beans, and pantry goods, even sandwiches and frozen cuts of meat. In spring the Club offers plant starters for free, and into the winter it still manages to offer produce, like sunchokes, purple kale, and potatoes. Its clientele is incredibly diverse, reflecting Rainier Beach as one of the most diverse ZIP codes in the country. In addition to biweekly free food days, Dinish and partners also deliver boxes of goods to unhoused community members and to tiny house villages.
“I grew up in the ’50s, Black person in America, before food stamps, and so there were nine kids in my family,” Dinish said. “At that time, Black folks [weren’t] getting paid that well. So there was food insecurity. We didn’t know, because my mom was really good at putting meals together out of nothing. But my mom died early, and after that happened, there was some serious food insecurity. So I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been volunteering at something my entire life. So [to have] the opportunity to feed the community with food that is free to me? Absolutely.”
Dinish is officially retired, and previously worked for the City of Seattle, but running the Colored Girls Garden Club is essentially a full-time job. And Dinish says that whenever she is stressed or worried about supplies and deliveries, the community provides. The group has three fridges and two freezers in the space to store food, which were donated by organizational partners and even Dinish’s acupuncturist’s contractor. And every week, there is food to give to the Rainier Beach community.
“This is where my life is, and this is where I set up,” Dinish said. “Because this is where God took me to do this.”
The Colored Girls Garden Club hosts free food days every Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. and every Saturday from 12 to 2 p.m. at 9254 57th Ave. S. The Club is a nonprofit. If you would like to support its work, contact the Club over Facebook for donation information.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: Yvette Dinish (pictured) purchased her storefront close to Rainier Beach’s worker-owned restaurant Jude’s before the pandemic. Since the pandemic, it has naturally evolved into a free food pantry supplied with extra food from community partners. It is open to the public every Thursday and Friday. (Photo courtesy of Yvette Dinish.)
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