Pizza Klatch, which has been serving up pizza and support for local LGBT youths and allies for about eight years, has edged out nearly 4,000 other groups for a $25,000 grant from State Farm.
The program holds weekly lunchtime support groups for Thurston County high school students. They meet with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths and allies in 9 different local high schools, serving about 60 pizzas to between 175-250 students each week.
Pizza Klatch was one of nearly 4,000 causes to apply for a State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant. Two-hundred causes, identified for doing important work in their communities, were then selected by the State Farm Youth Advisory Board and entered into a Facebook competition.
Anyone could vote up to 10 times each day for about three weeks; the 40 causes receiving the most votes would each receive a grant of $25,000.
Pizza Klatch finished 14th with 88,417 votes.
On Saturday, on stage at the Capital City Pride festival in downtown Olympia, Pizza Klatch youth will accept a giant check from State Farm.
Pizza Klatch meets at North Thurston, Timberline, River Ridge, Olympia, Avanti, Capital, Tumwater, Black Hills and Rainier high schools during the school year. They plan to add two more schools for 2015-16, serving more than 250 LGBTQ youths and their allies per week.
Each meeting has two trained facilitators, and all students are welcome to come and talk. “It’s just a place where people can feel accepted and loved for exactly who they are,” said Jessica McKimmie, Pizza Klatch’s executive director.
They will be accepting applications for facilitators in July and facilitator training will be in August.
“The work we do for youths is super important and critical,” Krnich said.
EllieHolly Krnich, Pizza Klatch’s multimedia coordinator, said Pizza Klatch was founded in 2007 after a rush of suicides in the South Sound among LGBTQ youths, or people perceived as LGBTQ.
“Pizza Klatch creates spaces for youth and allies to talk about their feelings, learn about healthy relationships, and just be in a safe space,” Krnich said. “High school can be a scary place.”
She said the State Farm grant will help with awareness.
“There are now a lot more people who know what we do and how important our work is for keeping LGBTQ youth and allies feeling safe and comfortable and happy and hopeful for the future,” she said. “They’re gonna know they’re loved and cared about. We’ve given them another year of us.”
Pizza Klatch’s cause is a personal one for Krnich. She was assigned male at birth, but knew she was a girl growing up in the 1980s and ’90s.
“But there was no space for me to talk about it,” she said. “So when I get to work with pizza klatch, it’s like I get to … time travel.”
McKimmie, who came out as bisexual in high school, agreed. “We didn’t really have the opportunity to have a safe place to talk about stuff like this,” she said.
But now they are happy to offer support to today’s youths, regardless of how they identify.
“Any youth can show up at any time, no signing up required. Take a slice of pizza and sit down. Doesn’t matter how you identify,” Krnich said.
The pizzas are purchased at local pizzerias, such as Brewery City Pizza or Round Table Pizza. The money comes primarily from grants and fundraising, McKinnie said.
Each year, Pizza Klatch holds a Gayla event and also receives several grants, but the State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant is the biggest lump sum the group has received.
The grant means they already have secured enough money for all of the pizzas they will need for the 2015-16 school year.
“We couldn’t have won without such widespread community support and are so grateful for the attention this campaign has brought to such an important issue. LGBTQ youth are among the highest risk of all youth and deserve the resources to adequately support their needs,” McKimmie said.
For more information, go to pizzaklatch.org.