Helping communities thrive: The Moore Wright Group distributes stability, hope to Grays Harbor and beyond

A dozen staff members from The Moore Wright Group pose together in the organization’s warehouse behind a white sign with green font announcing their Legacy Housing.
The Moore Wright Group is an inspiring place to visit. A large part of that is the staff.

According to Tanikka Watford, the Washington chapter of The Moore Wright Group (TMWG) was created when her parents “volun-told” her to become the organization’s Executive Director and she decided to expand to the Pacific Northwest.

Tanikka’s parents founded TMWG in Alabama in 2007, with the mission to strengthen families and communities and to restore hope. At its core, TMWG a nonprofit specializing in the distribution of essential items to help break the cycle of poverty, abuse and abandonment.

In Washington, the organization has come a long way since Tanikka began distributing shoes out of the back of her minivan, Betsy, in Lewis, Mason and Thurston counties. From Betsy to their current location at the former “middle” Swanson’s Grocery location in Aberdeen, TMWG has established itself as a trusted nonprofit.

Despite a somewhat reluctant start for Tanikka, it’s been her tenacious spirit and heart for others that steered TMWG to diversify and find new ways to support communities across the state. “As a leader, it’s hard to say yes to a thing when you don’t always have the complete vision for it. But sometimes our yeses yield to other things that bless families and I’m just grateful to be in the place to see it.”

One of those yeses was becoming a disaster distribution facility during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Moore Wright Group received a COVID relief grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce, which allowed them to move to their current facility and significantly increase their community impact. The group went from receiving pallets of items to processing and distributing truckloads of personal protective equipment during the pandemic to limit the spread of illness.

“Without the partnership with Commerce for our disaster and COVID response, we wouldn’t have been able to pay staff,” said Tanikka. “But Commerce saw us for an organization that can help with COVID relief and response and brought input and funding into us, and support in people.”

Additionally, the Commerce connection has led to other essential partnerships, which have allowed TMWG to diversify and find creative ways to help Washington communities thrive.

“The Moore Wright Group has provided a hub of hope and stability, helping so many people get back on their feet through several very hard years,” said Commerce Director Mike Fong. “From establishing the global distribution center, workforce programs, recovery services and housing assistance, their holistic approach is strengthening the Grays Harbor community today and for the future.”

Distributing hope

Structural damage from a February storm in 2021 forced TMWG to vacate their previous location at Aberdeen’s Shoppes at Riverside.

A search for a permanent distribution center led them to the former Swanson’s store along Simpson Avenue in downtown Aberdeen and a willing landlord. The 44,000 square foot facility has been the right fit: centrally located with lots of space and necessary features.

The Moore Wright Group is a Community Distribution Partner with Good360. They’re able to receive large donations from various companies who send new items that are then distributed to statewide organizations and people in need. The warehouse is full of a little bit of everything, including overstock and seasonal items from retailers like Amazon, Walmart, airlines, beauty companies, furniture stores, and more.

According to staff, sometimes they’re unsure how stuff they receive will be used, but they keep products flowing to those who need them.

Tanikka added, “Every item in our warehouse probably would have been thrown in the trash. If you don’t have an organization to work with to donate it to, most organizations are not willing to take all of the things that we will say yes to.”

The entrance of The Moore Wright Group’s warehouse location. The side’s of the awning are red with a white front and the organization’s logo in green.
The Moore Wright Group moved its warehouse operation into the former Swanson’s Grocery building in downtown Aberdeen in 2021.

In 2022, TMWG distributed items to every county in Washington, locations across the U.S. and around the world to countries like South Africa, Uganda and Ukraine. They served nearly 1.8 million people worldwide last year.

Donations from companies have increased, but so has the need. TMWG staff are handpicking an average of 30 to 50 individual orders each week for pick up or delivery. Orders go to a variety of people with different circumstances: a mother fleeing a domestic abuse situation with her children; individuals starting over after incarceration; a person moving into housing after experiencing homelessness; families rebuilding after a natural disaster.

The need is everywhere, but in Grays Harbor, TMWG team sees it firsthand.

The COVID-19 pandemic and inflation exacerbated challenges for Grays Harbor community members. In July 2022, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 25.2% of Aberdeen’s over 17,000 residents were living in poverty, more than double the statewide average.

With the cost of living combined with a lack of work in the area, it’s estimated the amount of people they’ve served within the past year has tripled.

Tanikka and her team are resourceful about how to distribute items and reach more people. They fill converted buses with supplies and essentials to take into communities where they’re needed most. They visit encampments to hand out hygiene items so unhoused community members have access to things like soap, cleaning products and other essentials.

Hunger is also an issue in Grays Harbor. TMWG was part of a pilot program through the Washington State Department of Agriculture to distribute 300 food boxes every Thursday. Additionally, they’ve partnered with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on a mobile summer feeding program for rural communities.

In July, TMWG hosted its summer toy distribution in partnership with Good360 and Toys for Tots. They estimated 5,000 people in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties were served. With distributions through statewide partner agencies, an additional 20,000 people received toys.

The extent of the impact on the community was not something TMWG foresaw. They’ve experienced the gratitude of families helped by programs and opportunities Tanikka and her team provide. It makes them excited about their efforts.

“We’re figuring out how we can be a better organization for the community we are in,” Tanikka said. “Even though we touched every county, how can we be more intentional about the things we do here in Grays Harbor because of the needs?”

Legacy housing

The Moore Wright Group purchased the former Swanson’s Grocery property in April 2022. With it came 28 other parcels of land, 17 with existing homes. The purchase was made possible through their initial relationship with Commerce connecting them to financial resources at the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and Office of Rural Farmworker Housing.

Homelessness and housing have been a complex issue in Aberdeen for decades. “Rent rates are causing the issue, and there are not enough affordable places for low-income community members to be able to have housing,” said Tanikka. “The poverty and wealth gap is very, very vast and visual at the same time. There’s a lot of homeless here who have been homeless for a while.”

Affordable housing was part of TMWG’s 10-year plan, but Tanikka did not envision that they would be figuring out how to make it a reality so soon.

Since the purchase of the 29 lots, TMWG has worked with contractors to improve the 17 existing houses without displacing current tenants. They’re hoping the empty lots will eventually have multiple units of transitional housing to help survivors of abuse, veterans and individuals transitioning out of homelessness.

Part of the inaugural funding awarded from Commerce’s Office of Apple Health and Homes went to TMWG. The funding focuses on housing assistance and permanent supportive housing for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness who also have health conditions.

TMWG also partners with the state Health Care Authority on a barrier reduction program to help individuals get into or stay in housing.

In March 2023, TMWG received a $7.9 million Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition (RHCA) grant from Commerce’s Housing Trust Fund to purchase and renovate the Oceanside Hotel in Hoquiam. The property features 25 apartments for transitional housing that will include individual kitchenettes and onsite staff to help residents with services.

The Oceanside Hotel purchase is what TMWG calls their “Legacy Housing.” The goal is to give people a safe place to call home while finding stability regardless of the circumstances that led them there.

Tanikka explains, “We call it legacy housing because we want you to have a space you can go to and think about what’s next for your legacy that you create. Not only does [the project] stretch what’s normal in the economy, but it also tells people what’s possible.”

The interior of The Moore Wright Group’s Recovery Café of Hope. The lower walls and welcome counter are dark green with a collection of benches and bookshelves throughout. Paintings by TMWG staff hang on the walls.
TMWG Recovery Café of Hope provides a safe, supportive space for individuals to overcome addiction of any kind.

Recovery Café of Hope

Drivers are welcomed to Aberdeen by a sign inviting them to “Come as you are”, a nod to Aberdeen-born Kurt Cobain’s 1991 Nirvana song. As a second chance organization, the sentiment is shared by TMWG.

Within the past year, TMWG has transformed the former Swanson’s bakery into TMWG Recovery Café of Hope where people are treated with love, compassion and understanding. Part of the nationwide Recovery Café Network, it’s one of 14 locations in Washington.

The Recovery Café model is person-centered, providing continuous support for individuals at any stage of their recovery. For anyone 18 years and over who’s been clean and sober for at least 24 hours, the café is a safe space to overcome addiction of any kind and maintain sobriety with the support of a non-judgmental community.

Support at the Recovery Café comes from peer counselors with their own lived experience. In addition to providing emotional support, they assist with finding medical care, securing benefits and referrals, and employment opportunities.

According to Tanikka, being in a community where addiction is prevalent, it’s important for people to see others on the same journey and know they have a nationwide network of people working together to make changes one day at a time.

“We want you to leave better than you came in,” she said. “You might not stay with us forever, and that’s okay. We want you to be the best you possible.”

Five of The Moore Wright Group staff members work together to place blankets in bags inside the organization’s warehouse location. Two other staff members are working in the background.
TMWG staff work together to put blankets into bags for distribution at a homeless encampment in Aberdeen. The organization often distributes items directly to the community from their refurbished buses.

Workforce development

The Moore Wright Group is an inspiring place to visit. A large part of that is the people.

Staff members come from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. Many start through Worksource’s work experience program, also known as WEXs, and are then hired following the successful completion of their contract.

Throughout the past year, the team has doubled in size with continued growth on the horizon as they expand workforce development with the help of the U.S. Department of Labor. Through appropriation from U.S. Senator Patty Murray, TMWG received a two-year grant to fund the “Warehouse and Logistics Academy” from the federal DOL’s Employment Training Administration.

“We are trying to build out a better workforce development program, but also a reentry program with that,” said Tanikka. “Right now we work with our WEXs. We bring people in who come from incarceration who want to get quick licenses: forklift, first aid and CPR, and Certified Logistics Associates.”

With a Building Communities Fund grant from Commerce and a partnership with Catalyst Kitchen, TMWG is working to refurbish the old Swanson’s kitchen and expand training to culinary arts and hospitality. Once operational, it will support more programs for the community: expanding summer meal programs for youth and adding a coffee stand to the Recovery Café.

Across the whole organization, the tightknit staff has a readiness to help where needed. Whether it’s coming together to unload a 53-foot shipping container or receiving three truckloads of toys, they’re dedicated and excited about the future impact each delivery brings.

“I’ve always wanted to be able to serve in different areas because so many things overlap,” Tanikka said. “We are very much in a community that has a lot of needs. We understand that we can’t fill everybody’s need, but sometimes we have a thing that can help change a person’s life. At the end of the day we want to help inspire hope to help people know that they’re not alone.”

Hear from Tanikka and watch TMWG in action on YouTube.

Learn more about The Moore Wright Group at www.tmwg.org or on Facebook.

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Washington State Department of Commerce

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