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Tensions Rise Over Donations at Church Migrant Camp

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Beth Storm never imagined that donating food and clothing would become so controversial. “I have to do it quietly,” she tells me.

Riverton Park Methodist Church in Tukwila has been housing hundreds of migrants in tents on its property for a year. Pastor Jan Bolerjack has asked Storm not to give handouts from the trunk of her car at the church.

When Storm brought food and items to give away last time, pastor Jan Bolerjack called Tukwila Police, and volunteers could have been arrested since they initially refused to leave Riverton Park United Methodist Church. 

“You don’t know what harm you’re doing,” Bolerjack says to Storm. “No,” replies Storm, “I don’t think you do.”

The pastor says she’s trying to prevent donation events from turning into a free for all. 

“We run our donations through a central place so that everyone is treated fairly,” Bolerjack explains.

But Storm says giving personally and directly is the only way to make sure the migrants in tents are getting what they need, saying, “they tell me they are cold and hungry.”

Storm is accusing the pastor of mismanagement and questioning where all of the donations are going. Storm says Bolerjack “wants everything to go into the church where she can do what she wants with it.”

She says the dozens of pairs of boots recently purchased for the kids never made it on to their feet. “I’ve never seen any of the migrants wear the shoes, or coats, or gloves, or hats that I’ve given,” she tells me.

“I have not taken any of that away from them,” Bolerjack insists when Storm questions her.

Since the asylum seekers moved in almost a year ago, private donors have given money and community members have dropped off food and all sorts of supplies to help. 

Lawmakers also directed hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to the church, and more money may be on the way.

But it remains unclear how the donations and funding are being tracked and distributed. 

Storm is now calling for an audit and wants an outside agency to take over daily operations. “She [Bolerjack] should be asking for help,” she says. “There’s something not right going on…there is nobody supervising how the money is being spent.”

Pastor Bolerjack is dismissing these allegations, saying that Storm’s actions “cause divisions among the people here,” but would not tell me how she is accounting for the donations. 

She simply says resources are getting to the migrants and emphasizes that distribution must be done in an orderly manner. 

“If it all comes in, and it’s all distributed fairly, we don’t have the fighting,” Bolerjack explains.

Storm says the volunteers are done handing out donations at Riverton Park but plans to continue giving directly to the migrants. 

The next time around, it’s likely going to happen from the streets. 

Jonathan Choe

Journalist and Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Jonathan Choe is a journalist and Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute's Center on Wealth and Poverty, covering homelessness issues for its Fix Homelessness initiative. Prior to joining Discovery, Choe spent several years as one of the lead reporters at KOMO-TV, consistently the top rated television station in Seattle. His in depth stories on crime and deep dive investigations into the homeless crisis led to measurable results in the community, including changes in public policy. Choe has more than two decades of experience in television news behind the scenes and in front of the camera for ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and Tribune. He has also been nominated and honored with multiple industry awards including an Emmy. Choe spent several years teaching classes on emerging media and entrepreneurship to under privileged youth in inner city Chicago. As an independent journalist, Choe also contributes regularly to the Mill Creek View and Lynnwood Times and has reported on exclusive stories in the past year for Daily Wire and The Postmillennial.