To truly understand your community, you must get out into it.
And while I am not suggesting that everyone quit their jobs and become local columnists for an online news site, I can say that to work for Patch is to embark upon an adventure.
By the time you’re reading this, my days with Patch will be over. After two years covering Lakewood – with regular forays into University Place, Gig Harbor, Bonney Lake, Sumner and Puyallup – I have traded in my press pass for an editing job at MSN.com. I’ll still be working from home, but I definitely won’t be riding around with Santa in a fire engine.
When I began working for Patch in November 2010, my only experience with community journalism was editing it – and fleetingly, at that, during my tenure at The Seattle Times. And while I had lived in Lakewood most of my life, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. There’s a big difference between going to buy maple bars at the House of Donuts – and writing about how they’re made.
And it didn’t take long to realize that 12 years as a student in the Clover Park School District doesn’t count for a whole lot when you’re trying to decipher the complex process of passing bonds and building schools. You can’t find those procedures in a textbook.
Now, two years, four groundbreakings, and a whole lot of school-board meetings later, I understand these things – and a whole lot more.
I’ve watched Daffodil Princesses be selected and elated graduates receiving their diplomas at commencement. I’ve witnessed Clover Park’s journey to its first state basketball championship, and Emerald Ridge knocking off previously undefeated Curtis to win the SPSL South volleyball title.
I’ve interviewed first-graders who weren’t sure what a reporter was, and high-schoolers who jostled for position in front of my camera.
I’ve seen police officers playing basketball and grateful parents crying with relief that their kids will have Christmas. I’ve attended farmers markets and choir concerts – and live-blogged from a political caucus.
But most importantly, through this journey, I have discovered a different side of myself.
In December 2010, I was talking with Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar about the inaugural Fallen Officers Food Drive, which was supposed to run a week – and lasted two months instead.
He mentioned the extreme need for baby food and formula – and a personal mission was born.
Since then, I have collected more than $1,000 worth of baby food and formula to donate to Emergency Food Network. I have rallied my friends for formula checks and coupons; I have drummed up samples when I take my kids to their pediatrician; and oh yeah, I had 12 cases of organic baby food delivered to my mom’s house while I was on vacation – and forgot to tell her. She called me in Hawaii to ask why a mountain of Amazon boxes was preventing her from opening the front door. Oops.
Every box, every can, every jar has been hand-delivered to Helen McGovern, the amazing director of the Emergency Food Network; first by Farrar, and then by myself, usually with a kid or two in tow. I maintain it’s never too early to teach civic responsibility.
Today, I will be dropping off a huge box of formula and jarred baby food to the third-annual Fallen Officers Food Drive at the Lakewood Police Station. Just because my days at Patch have come to an end doesn’t mean that my little project is over. As long as there are hungry babies to feed, I’ll do my part to help them. It has become my passion.
Such a spirit of generosity is something I have seen over and over as I have waded into and written about the cities Patch covers. Even the neediest residents across the South Sound give what they can. Little kids bring their piggy banks to donate to food drives; those who once relied on a food bank take the time to volunteer once they’re back on their feet. It’s touching to see the way people in these communities take care of each other.
It’s so subtle that I may have never noticed.
But I’m sure glad I did.