A Brief History of APOYO

Mexican retablo thanking the virgin for help in crossing the river

A Mexican retablo thanking the Virgin for helping a family cross the Rio Grande

Historical Context

Mexicans have been coming to work in the US even before the northwestern part of Mexico became the southwestern part of the United States.  In the 1990s, the Clinton administration began to crack down on immigration and limit the number of asylum seekers. Clinton increased the number of Border Patrol agents and toughened laws against “illegal aliens.” 

Increasing immigration

A lesson in the law of unintended consequences

Increased Immigration

But after NAFTA, the Mexican government faced financial crisis and political upheaval. With the value of the peso falling against the dollar, more people sought work in the US. So Despite the Clinton crackdown, immigration to the US increased by about 55% between 1990 and 2000. And as crossing the border got more dangerous, more people were forced to say in the US, rather than go home.

APOYO volunteers

Intrepid APOYO volunteers 

Our Beginnings

In the mid-1990s, Central Washington experienced an influx of Mexican immigrants.  Philip Garrison, who had lived and worked in Mexico for years, soon got to know some of these people.  Because of his familiarity with both cultures, he understood the challenges they were facing.  He and two recently arrived friends decided to start driving to Yakima to get food from Northwest Harvest and hand it out from the back of a pickup truck.  Read his essay The Unforgettable Frozen Chicken Giveaway and What Ensued here.

 Christmas in the Old Heat Plant

Christmas in Old Heat

We join with CWU

In 1998, CWU president Ivory Nelson gave APOYO permission to operate out of the Old Hospital building, which the university was using as as storage facility.  In 2001, APOYO obtained 501(C)(3) status and was incorporated in Washington State.  Our new status made us eligible for a state grant from the WSDA's Emergency Food Assistance Program.  By this time, we had relocated to the Old Heat Plant on Central's campus.  The food bank became a joint endeavor between Central's faculty, the MECha Club, and the local immigrant community.

The APOYO Free Clinic

Jesse Hernandez gets examined


APOYO has a history of activism, dating back to Philip Garrison’s leading role in organizing a grape boycott to support farm workers in 1969.  With the help of two local doctors and three nurses, APOYO founded a free clinic that was short-lived, but that served to raise awareness of the need for low-income health care in Ellensburg.  We provided transportation to and from treatment centers in Yakima. Before local service providers hired bilingual staff, we also acted as translators and helped people fill out forms. 

Ice Raid demonstration

Local Mexicanos protest the Ellensburg ICE Raid

ICE Raids

In 2011, an ICE raid carried off 30 people to a detention center in Tacoma. One of the detainees was the daughter of one of our founders. With the help of various community groups, we bailed people out and brought them home. Of all the detainees, only one was ultimately found guilty of anything. But as a result, many immigrant families left the area. 

Shady Acres trailer park camplaign

Banner made by the children of Shady Acres

Shady Acres

In 2016, the KIttitas County Commissioners announced plans to demolish 58 low-income housing units in order to create an RV park.  The move would have evicted 115 people from their homes. APOYO joined with CWU faculty and community leaders to help residents form a homeowners' association and sue the county. The need for more low income housing has now become quite obvious, and plans to locate and build are underway.

Academic Achievements

Between 2001 and 2015, APOYO operated with little academic oversight. We reported our yearly accomplishments to the office of Business Services, detailing how we were meeting the goals of the University’s strategic plan.

Several of our faculty taught Latino related classes and ESL. They published books and articles directly related to their work at APOYO.  And many of our clients’ children went on to enroll in university classes. Two have gone on to receive doctorates.

We are proud to have a sister relationship with Las Patronas in Mexico's state of Veracruz, as well as several other Mexican food banks.  

In February 2010, through its Centro de Documentacion e lnvestigacion de las Artes, the office of the Secretariat of Culture of Michoacán, published Porque me faltan alas, a translation into Spanish of Philip Garrison's book Because I Don't Have Wings (University of Arizona Press, 2006). The translation was done by colleagues Stella Moreno and Nathalie Kasseis-Smith. In February, Garrison presented the translation in ceremonies at the International Festival of the Book in Mexico City.

In March 2010 the University of Arizona Press published Garrison's next book, The Permit that Never Expires. Like its predecessor, Because I Don't Have Wings, it was centered on the APOYO Food bank.  In 2013 The University of Arizona Press accepted for publication a volume of essays co-edited by Stephanie Wickstrom.

Between Fall Quarter of 2018 and Winter Quarter 2020, Central students contributed 254 hours as volunteers.  Many of them tied their volunteer hours to classroom projects like the documentary on our Home Page.

Mailing Address

111 Peavine RD
Ellensburg, WA 98926


Cell: 509-929-4112 
Phone: 509-925-1141


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