Submitted by Serve Washington

Serve Washington has selected Katie Chugg as a recipient of the 2024 Washington State Volunteer Service Award for the Northwest Region of Washington.

The Northwest Region includes Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan and Island counties. The purpose of these awards is to honor the many acts of kindness that individuals, families, service groups, and organizations perform in communities across the state of Washington. A total of 14 awards were given to individuals and groups across the state for service and volunteerism performed in 2023.

“We believe volunteerism promotes bonds across various races, cultures, beliefs, backgrounds, and experiences,” said Serve Washington Interim Executive Director Trish Almond. “We also believe national service, volunteerism and civic engagement are key to achieving equity, strengthening communities and improving lives. Through these awards, we seek to recognize individuals and groups who reflect the diversity of our state for their contributions toward effectively addressing issues that face their communities.”

Chugg is an AmeriCorps member serving as a food educator at Acme and Kendall elementaries through Common Threads Farm. Chugg is being recognized with her service to help bridge gaps in healthy food access in East Whatcom county.

The USDA has designated East Whatcom County as a food desert, due to its limited access to supermarkets and high poverty levels. According to the USDA, people living in food deserts are more likely to experience health problems due to lack of access to healthy food and health resources.

Approximately 65% of students attending Acme Elementary are from a low-income household, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The rate is higher at Kendall Elementary, 87%.

Food educators like Chugg lead programs at schools where students learn to grow and cook produce from on-site school gardens. Chugg, along with students, helps maintain school gardens. Much of the food that is produced in the gardens goes home with students or is brought to the Foothills Food Bank in Maple Falls. Chugg coordinates the distribution of garden produce between the schools and the food bank.

Chugg, 46, has been a resident of Kendall for more than 20 years. She has personally seen impacts of inadequate access to fresh food in her community and has a connection to Common Threads Farnm. She helped write a grant for Common Threads Farm to build the first garden at Kendall Elementary 15 years ago, when her daughter was a student there.

Chugg says her desire to serve her community comes from her mother. She recalls her mom having a passion for helping at-risk youth or “just giving $5 to someone she thought needed help. I had such a great role model and serving your community and being intentional about where you are was kind of passed down.”

Chugg has also spearheaded efforts to make food education accessible outside school hours. She led a series of special events and food education camps for kids over the summer. She created and hosted a series of family cooking nights to engage parents and students in cooking and sharing a meal together and taking part in conversations. Chugg pointed out portions of rural Whatcom County still lack access to affordable high-speed internet, so she took it upon herself to hand-deliver fliers and other event materials to community gathering places to reach more households.

Additionally, Chugg co-authored a letter of support for an application to designate east Whatcom County a “Health Equity Zone” to by the Washington State Department of Health. Health Equity Zones receive $200,000 annually for at least two years to help community leaders identify health priorities and develop community action plans.

“Katie’s consistent relationship building within the community has been another factor that led to the success of her programs–families and students have expressed that they show up because they look forward to seeing Katie,” said Emily Hie, AmeriCorps program director at Common Threads Farm. “Katie does an excellent job of modeling unmatched commitment to service, while also balancing that with self-care and resilience.”

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