‘Adell shares everything she has’
Manager of Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center provides vital resources to Spokane’s East Central community
Adell Whitehead has made a living serving people. When a regular at the MLK Food Bank became ill from COVID-19 and could no longer retrieve food packages, Adell loaded her car with two weeks’ of food and household items. She delivered them to the family’s doorstep on her own time, including a few chocolates for the family’s young daughter.
“Being of service is humbling,” Adell says. “This is where the magic is, right here—it just touches my soul. Providing is what’s meaningful to me.”
Before Adell joined the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center a few years ago, she worked a corporate job for nearly three decades. Something stirred inside Adell during a work trip to the Philippines, and as she boarded the plane returning to Spokane, she knew change was coming.
Adell, originally from California, says she questioned her worldview following this trip. People in the Philippines approached life differently; family and helping one another took precedence over individual gain or success.
“That really struck me because I was like, ‘Wait a minute, that’s the way it should be,’” she says. “That’s what makes you a person: How are you living? Are you trying to knock people down to get to the top, or are you reaching down to bring others with you when you get to the top?”
Adell no longer argues mundane concerns like who will be taking out the trash, instead focusing her energy on helping others and understanding her effect on them.
A year after she returned to Spokane, Adell was laid off. After a period of reflection, she decided to enroll in the Whitworth University’s accelerated-format organizational management course in the evenings, all while working a temporary job to pay the bills.
Circumstances aligned for Adell when she applied for the MLK Center position after it reopened in 2018. Located in the East Central Neighborhood—one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the city—the center provides social services and resources to community members.
Once hired, the first thing Adell did was reopen the food bank. It had been closed during the holidays, which tend to be the most brutal months for people facing food insecurity, she says. The previous managers had closed everything down, cutting people off from important resources, she says. As the Family Service Support manager, she reopened the Senior Program, WIC, and SNAP offices.
The food bank has proved vital in ensuring people have access to food year-round. Access to community resources is essential—especially during the pandemic—when food insecurity rates have nearly doubled.
“We’re here not only for our Black community but for all communities,” Adell says. “Hunger has no color.”
The center serves many homeless individuals, and it’s crucial that they receive food they can consume if they don’t have a way to cook it and don’t have cooking utensils or access to tools like can openers—things most people take for granted, she says.
“I don’t assume anymore,” Adell says. “I can’t afford to.”
Adell says the center’s food bank serves about 400 families every month, which can amount to 1,800 people.
Adell makes sure to connect people with the resources they need, whether it’s food, information, or help navigating the health or employment system.
“I’m in a position where I can give those resources,” she says. “We can help people who are low-income or have no income while treating them with dignity and respect, letting them know they matter no matter what situation they’re in.”
A lot of the work in the food bank revolves around addressing and minimizing the stigma associated with receiving food assistance, she says.
Currently, the staff provides boxes full of food they anticipate families will need. However, before the pandemic caused operational changes for community safety, the food bank was laid out to look like a grocery store; people could pick out exactly what they wanted and needed. Adell says they’ll go back to that model as soon as the pandemic is over.
Adell is the type of advocate who works behind the scenes, says Karen Herford, a close friend of Adell’s. She takes the time to get to know the people who go to the center and tailor her approach to their specific needs.
“Serving people is natural for her,” Karen says. “She really enjoys making sure people are taken care of, and it makes her happy to see others happy, and she doesn’t need that accolade.”
Adell is like a “little butterfly,” always all over the board helping people in any way she can, whether it’s at the center, in church, or anywhere else, Karen says. If Adell isn’t helping ‘The Golden Girls’—a group of elderly church ladies—she’s taking water to the pastor or keeping an eye on the kids, Herford adds, and no one ever has to ask her to do it.
“She doesn’t let her emotions get the best of her—she’s consistent,” Herford says. “The Adell you see today is the same one you’ll see in ten years, and the Adell you see at nine a.m. is the same one you’re gonna see at seven p.m.”
Although Adell is as “tough as nails,” Karen says she worries about her friend sometimes because some people readily take advantage of people who have a giving nature.
“It’s like, everybody’s always pulling at them to get their needs met and giving people like Adell are not one to say, ‘Well excuse me, I need my needs met first.’ She’s just gonna keep pushing to help everybody else,” Karen says, which is why she pushes her to take time for herself, too.
Adell says she learned to stand up for herself at a very young age. She grew up as an only child to her single mother, who always pushed her to be involved in her community and learn from others, she says. As a fourth-generation descendant from slaves, Adell says the wisdom her elders have imparted to her is priceless.
“I was always learning from them how to navigate the world as a woman of color and how to stand up for myself,” she says. “So that has always stayed with me.”
She tenderly recalls the prominent family gatherings surrounded by the wisest of people, especially her grandmother, who worked cleaning houses and taught Adell to remain humble and never fall victim to arrogance.
“It’s not always the certificate that proves who you are; it’s the work that you do,” Adell says.
Even now, though, Adell still struggles to make herself heard, which can be a difficult feat for women and particularly women of color, she says, whose knowledge is taken advantage of.
“But I don’t stop talking,” she says. “We need to encourage women to not stop talking, don’t stop doing what you know you can do.”
Roaschel Everette-Wheeler has known Adell for twenty-three years and is continually inspired by her longtime friend, whom she considers a sister.
“Adell’s a ray of sunshine,” she says. “She’s the kind of person that truly just envelops you.”
Roaschel adds that Adell’s commitment to the community comes as no surprise; she’s always making sure everyone around her has what they need. She’s the type of person to get up and do something for someone when she notices they need help.
Even amid trying to care for her mother, who’s facing some health issues, she’s managed to continue to make sure people have access to food and other resources at the center and has taken the initiative to get people to vaccination sites, Roaschel says.
“She has a heart of gold, truly, and she’s so genuine,” she says. “Adell shares everything she has, including her time, even when she’s mentally and physically worn down—she gives it.”
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