State Employees Volunteer with ICSEW at Thurston County Food Bank Gardens

two women weeding a garden outside
Department of Natural Resources Employee, Julie Gilling, (left) and Stephanie Goedecke from the Employment Security Department (right) remove weeds from some garlic in a Thurston County Food Bank garden during an ICSEW volunteer event April 23 in Olympia

Story and Photos by Deirdre Bissonnnette

Department of Fish & Wildlife

ICSEW was proud to volunteer at the Kiwanis Westside Garden in Olympia on Sat. April 23. The Kiwanis Club sponsors three gardens that benefit the Thurston County Food Bank. The gardens provide thousands of pounds of fresh produce each year.

Five ICSEW members and other state employees weeded a plot with 6,0000 garlic plants at the event.

“I wanted to support ICSEW while staying in touch with our communities, making positive impacts and have a nice morning doing something different and connecting with other ICSEW members in person,” said Stephanie Goedecke, a quality assurance specialist with the Employment Security Department. “This volunteer opportunity provided all of that. This is the first time I’ve participated in an ICSEW event that wasn’t a meeting. I am glad I went.”

Julie Bagley, a support enforcement officer with the Department of Social and Health Services, said the opportunity was especially meaningful for her because it reminded her of her father’s commitment to service.

“My dad passed away in 2020, and after he retired from law enforcement and working in the Attorney General’s office, he volunteered at food banks as a way to keep himself busy while still helping others,” Bagley said. “I saw this beautiful opportunity to give back and honor my dad’s memory.”

While the garden isn’t certified organic, caretakers do use organic practices like fertilizing with manure and fish products and hand-pulling weeds.

The Kiwanis Club funds one full-time garden manager and a handful of seasonal staff. But volunteers from the community provide the majority of the labor.

More People are Using Food Banks

About 1 million Washingtonians visit food banks annually, according to Northwest Harvest, the state’s largest hunger relief agency. It also reports one in six children live in households experiencing food insecurity.

Food banks statewide say food insecurity and food bank use have both increased as a direct result of the pandemic.  The University of Washington and Washington State University released a joint study revealing food insecurity increased from 10 percent pre-pandemic to 27% during the pandemic.

ICSEW members said after two years of virtual events, the small gathering of volunteers was a great way to make a difference and socialize safely.

“I wanted the chance to make a positive impact and connect with some other members in person,” said Julie Gilling,” Deputy Legislative Director for the Department of Natural Resources Office of the Commissioner of Public Lands. “I also love an excuse to get outside and get my hands dirty.”

Other state employees like Robyn Harris, volunteered to celebrate with Earth Day and promote the spirit of volunteerism.

“In celebration of Earth Month and National Volunteer Week, I spent at beautiful morning weeding garlic rows at the garden,” said Harris, who is a senior program officer for the Serve Washington Division of the Office of Financial Management. “My heart was full of joy the rest of the day knowing just a few hours makes a huge difference.”

How to Help

The Thurston County food bank accepts produce donations from home gardens. Additionally, it runs a gleaning program with local commercial farms. Gleaning is collecting excess fresh food from farms, gardens and other sources and providing it to those in need.

Drop off Donations: The food bank welcomes donations of shelf-stable foods. It also accepts diapers, cleaning supplies, pet food and grocery bags. There are several drop-off locations within Thurston

Combined Fund Drive: The food bank is also registered with the state's Combined Fund Drive, CFD. The CFD, run through the Secretary of State's office, lets state employees make one time or recurring donations through payroll. For more information or to set up a donation, visit Use charity code 0319591

How to Access Services: If you or someone you know is in need, visit the food bank's website to view distribution location and schedule:

There’s Still Time to Volunteer! If you weren’t able to join ICSEW in April, we have two more volunteer dates scheduled this season:

May 25 9AM-Noon

June 25 9AM – Noon

Please RSVP to if you are able to join one of the next volunteer dates. Groups are limited to around 20 participants.