LaRue: Grants fund local, funky projects such as a farmers market — and a really big table

Staff writerAugust 4, 2013 

Patty Villa knows the Internet as well as she knows farmers, which made her online discovery last spring a case of serendipity.

She was asked by the Orting city administrator to help start a summer farmers market and found the piddling expenses involved — putting out fliers, promoting the market, recruiting the farmers — were adding up.

“I was a volunteer paying out of my own pocket,” Villa said.

Online one night, she checked out The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. It changed her life — and that of the farmers market she was trying to open.

“I knew about the foundation, and I was poking around, looking for more funds, and I saw the Spark Grant,” Villa said. “I applied and did not think I was going to make it.” 

She was wrong. Among the 48 applicants for a $1,500 Spark Grant, Villa’s was one of six selected. Knowing the money was coming allowed her to approach the project differently.

“It took all the pressure off,” Villa said.

All summer, the Orting Valley Farmers Market has been open each Friday from 3-7 p.m. and now has some 40 vendors.

It was precisely the type of project the Spark Grants were created to fund.

Rose Lincoln Hamilton, president of The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, said there are many grants available in the world of nonprofits.

Lincoln Hamilton has been a heavy lifter in the funding of area projects. The foundation awarded more than $3.6 million last year in scholarships and grants to nonprofit agencies.

Three years ago, after the foundation brought Bishop Desmond Tutu to Tacoma as a catalyst for the “Be The Spark” campaign, Lincoln Hamilton wanted to keep that sentiment growing in the community.

“We wanted to celebrate the fun and optimism it produced,” she said. “So we researched nonprofit agencies giving small grants that wouldn’t be taxed for the grantee.”

One she found and loved was Boston’s Awesome Foundation.

“Some of their grants were wonderfully whimsical,” Lincoln Hamilton said. “They funded a hammock that hung downtown and held 12 people.”

The Tacoma foundation picked a committee of six to consider each application and keep a sense of whimsy and community. The committee made recommendations to the board of directors.

Six grants were awarded. One was whimsical, indeed.

The Really Big Table Project now has its own Facebook page. When completed, the table in question will be pulled by a bicycle and fold out to seat a dozen or more people.

“It can be taken to parks, neighborhoods, meeting places,” Lincoln Hamilton said. “It will seat a number of people who can then begin a conversation. We thought the idea was wonderful.”

One grant went to a man who wanted to teach canning and food preservation. Another went to an “Emerging Leaders of Pierce County” workshop.

One went to Jesse Michener, a photographer by trade and an artist at heart.

Last March, she started an online project,, in which people in the city were asked about happiness. Some Michener met while walking through the city; others filled out an online form.

“It’s my goal to document, through images and words, 253 stories of life in Tacoma,” Michener said. “I’m at 62 or 63 now.”

The project was well underway before she applied for the Spark Grant, but her hope was to get support exhibiting the work.

“If we can look at the people in our community, it might lead to simple and profound conversation,” she said. “This idea about what makes people happy, that’s been a surprise. It’s been joyful and poignant, and occasionally about the lack of happiness.”

The project will be shown at the First Night celebration Dec. 31 at the Broadway Center, and with the funding, Michener may self-publish a book of the photos and thoughts she’s collecting.

Larry LaRue: (253) 597-8638


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