A Time of Giving: Issaquah Thanksgivings in the Great Depression

“As a man eatest, so is he; if your diet is of meat, you become beefy; if your diet is fish you become slimy; if your diet is nuts you become nutty; but if your diet is milk and eggs you become healthy and cocky and crow all over the world.” So quipped a guest speaker at an Issaquah Kiwanis Club meeting in November 1930. The Great Depression was underway, and food would have been top of mind for many Issaquah residents.

The Depression hit Issaquah hard. The coal mining industry had faltered, many businesses closed, and unemployment was rife. Some of Issaquah’s 800 or so residents relied almost entirely on their kitchen gardens and what they could hunt and fish for food.

Talus & Wright families in 1931

The situation isn’t so different now. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, hunger in Washington is increasing significantly each year and is now at 15.4 percent, which is higher than the national average. According to the latest U.S. Census, the Issaquah region’s poverty level belies the city’s wealth and is similar to that of rural areas. According to the City administration, the problem is reflected in growing lines at the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank. Issaquah residents have responded to the problem by participating in an annual Turkey Trot that benefits the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank, and by donating the makings of a full Thanksgiving meal to families impacted by the struggling economy.

Such Thanksgiving generosity is a tradition that dates back to the Great Depression. In the 1930s Issaquah Kiwanis Club members responded to the economic hardship by donating food and clothing and providing loans “on a handshake.” According to David Jepsen in his history of the club, the Kiwanis Club was “the food basket of the valley,” and no one in need was turned away. One member provided medical services in return for “a chicken or half dozen eggs.” Another provided loans at a personal loss.

The club was most active before Thanksgiving, however. “The entire club would work all during the night preparing food baskets,” wrote Jepsen. “Here, some credit goes to the club leaders. J.R. Stephenson and A.L. Wold could organize a work party with vigor of military leaders.

Then as now, for many Issaquah residents Thanksgiving was all about giving.