Operation Sky Valley’s programs are keeping community fed
When Pam Steadman moved to Washington when she was younger, she met a bright-eyed Kelly Clifton assembling food packages in her garage. Clifton was trying to make a difference in her community with her own hands.
“We were fresh in town and we were escaping a bad situation. That’s how I met her and her people,” Steadman said. “They would shower us, shower the kids on Christmas. They’d send us food, they would even cook us meals.”
Steadman was once a person receiving help from Clifton, the executive director and founder of Operation Sky Valley. Now, Steadman is a constant and loyal supporter of the organization.
“That’s how it started. I wanted to help her for just not knowing us but helping us,” Steadman said. “Next thing you know, I’m there for over 10 years.”
Operation Sky Valley is a grassroots organization that prepares 2,000 ready-to-go meals for children and seniors from Monroe to Gold Bar. With increasing inflationary pressures, the nonprofit struggles to keep up with the changing demands of the economy.
“Two years ago, to support or sponsor a child on a monthly basis was about $28 a month,” Kim Suggett, fundraising chairman of the organization said. “Now we’re seeing those costs somewhere in the mid-to-high $40s.”
In 2009, Clifton founded the program by packaging weekend meals for 17 children in her own garage who were identified as in need by school administrators.
“They would get free breakfast and lunch at school. But on the weekends or on school breaks, there wouldn’t be food for them in some cases, and that just broke my heart,” Clifton said.
By 2022, the food program, Operation Full Bellies, feeds more than 140 children and seniors. The expansion to serve the elderly population was fueled by hearing stories of seniors receiving $12 a month in food stamps. With their fixed income and increased rent and utility pressures, Clifton knew something had to be done.
“I definitely, definitely created relationships,” Steadman said. “We’ve lost a couple of seniors and that impacted our kids as well because we feel like they’re our grandparents and our great-grandparents.”
The organization is a 100% publicly supported nonprofit and does not receive any federal grants. Clifton said they sometimes struggle to know where the donations will come from.
“I know I feel it at the gas pump. I feel it at the grocery store, and I’m sure that that’s widespread throughout the community,” Suggett said.
Operation Sky Valley’s long-standing relationship with the community carries them through with donations, funding and volunteers.
Their Blue Jean Ball held earlier this month in Monroe raised $23,501 in donations, according to Suggett.
“We don’t have the support of the city in that way,” Clifton said. “They know of us and they’ve recognized us over the years for various things and small awards. But that’s not where our support is. Our support comes from individual people who really wanted to be a part of it.”
Apart from the Full Bellies program, support from Operation Sky Valley’s volunteers and community ensure
the clients they build relationships with are taken care of in all aspects of their life.
Steadman reflects on a time when the community banded together to help a little girl in the program celebrate her birthday after the death of her father by filling a minivan full of presents for her.
“She didn’t even care about the presents,” Steadman said. “People that don’t even know you wanted to bring you (gifts) on your birthday and just give you a smile on your face and raise you.”
“She just was literally in tears. It was the most humbling, beautiful thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
With the upcoming holidays, Operation Sky Valley is gearing up to give out extra help during these trying times. To donate, sponsor a child, or volunteer at Operation Sky Valley, visit www.operationskyvalley.org/take-action or email email@example.com
“It’s just the fact that people want to give back for no reason,” Steadman said. “That’s something I want my kids to see. There’s so much bad in the world that I want them to see the good.”
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