Arvadans fighting over who will be taking the ‘giving table’

Lawsuit concerns alleged trademark infrigement, slander

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 6/24/20

An Arvada woman who started a community giving table is being sued by another resident who claims the woman’s table infringed on his trademark. Resident Julia Walker created what she called “The …

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Arvadans fighting over who will be taking the ‘giving table’

Lawsuit concerns alleged trademark infrigement, slander

Posted

An Arvada woman who started a community giving table is being sued by another resident who claims the woman’s table infringed on his trademark.

Resident Julia Walker created what she called “The Giving Table” in a March Facebook post, hoping to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. At the table, residents could drop off or pick up certain items including food, pet supplies, hygiene items and others at Secrest Elementary on Sundays starting March 22.

“My best guess on average is that we helped at least 50 households (every Sunday) at the beginning,” Walker said. “On May 3, we had from 100 to 150 households. I had so many people dropping donations off.”

Those who donated were other Arvada residents, like Andrea Nordgren, who said she has donated to the table and liked the charity effort for its straightforwardness.

“People can just donate and people can just pick up. It’s a very direct way to give to the community,” she said. “The simplicity of it is very powerful and very needed.”

Partnership becomes a lawsuit

By mid-April, Walker had run six events using the name The Giving Table and said the charitable effort was starting to gain momentum. She created a Facebook page for her event on April 19.

Walker’s page eventually received messages from Arvada resident Joshua Rodriguez, a former city council candidate and director of One Arvada, a nonprofit supporting homeless youth. One Arvada is a registered 501(c)3 with hundreds of followers on Facebook.

“I would like to help with running ads and get people to come out strong,” Rodriguez’s messages read in part. “I think this would be a pilot program and would like to see it grow and have other folks set up tables.”

The two agreed to have Rodriguez accomplish this, with Walker creating Facebook events and adding Rodriguez as a host for the events. Meanwhile, Rodriguez promoted Walker’s table on his charity’s page.

Social media posts from April and early May give the impression that the partnership was working as intended. But within a few weeks, Walker said she began to feel the two had different visions for the table.

She questioned the fact that posts on the One Arvada Facebook page advertised Walker’s event and then asked for donations. As of June 16, One Arvada had posts on its page showing it had received $65 in donations, but Walker says those funds were never given to Walker and Rodriguez never brought items to her giving table.

In a message to Walker, Rodriguez later said “I did (incur) expenses for these events and will use donations for reimbursement.”

Walker said Rodriguez never went into detail about what those expenses might be.

Rodriguez told Colorado Community Media he would not comment on his relationship or actions regarding Walker’s table because of the pending lawsuit.

Further differences in vision came about when Rodriguez coordinated for the Action Center to donate to the table. Walker pre-approved this but because the center’s method differs from her own — for instance, the center asked families certain questions before it was able to provide them with donations — she decided that while she appreciated the partnership, it “deviates too far from what I’m doing with my event,” she told Rodriguez in a message May 18.

Walker told Rodriguez that starting with the next table event, she wanted to run the table alone again. She also asked him to stop posting flyers for her event on One Arvada’s page.

According to Walker, Rodriguez agreed but did not stop using #TheGivingTable in his posts. Two hours after Walker’s message to him, he used the hashtag in a May 18 post about Walker’s event. He also used the hashtag in a May 20 post about a Jeffco Schools food distribution event.

Walker insisted that he stop using the hashtag on May 18, saying he was leading others to believe when they donated to his Facebook events, the money was buying donations for Walker’s table.

Also on May 18, Rodriguez registered with the Secretary of State’s Office for the trade name “#thegivingtable.” On May 19, he registered for trademark “the giving table” and messaged Walker asking her to take down her Facebook page.

“He filed for my name and turned around and told me I’m not allowed to use it anymore,” Walker said.

Rodriguez also asked her to take down what he called “slanderous” Facebook posts, such as one she posted in the Arvada Neighbors group that said in part “The Giving Table is solely organized and ran by me. Any donations should only come to me or (be) directly dropped off at the table. (One Arvada) nonprofit and Joshua Rodriguez have absolutely no right to be misleading any of you.”

May 19, Rodriguez sent Walker another message saying he would sue her if she did not do as he asked.

The same day, May 19, Walker filed the paperwork to formally register a nonprofit called The Giving Table, partially motivated by the continuing community support the table has received from a large number of Walker’s neighbors.

Julia Jo Vitanyi, for instance, who runs a community Faceboook page called Jeffco Angels, said she has gone to every event hosted by the table and has donated because she believes in the cause.

“It was just so awesome to see. The most important thing the giving table offers is no judgment in asking for help,” she said. “People look forward to it every week. It’s been a shining light in our darkest days.”

While Walker was working to continue her table efforts, Rodriguez filed a legal complaint in district court on May 26.

The complaint alleges that Walker’s “slanderous remarks have diminished One Arvada’s ability to use the trademark #thegivingtable effectively”; that she has illegally used his trademark; and that she has posted slanderous claims that have hurt his and his nonprofit’s reputation.

He also alleges that the logo she created for her nonprofit, which uses a hand-drawn heart, was created in retaliation as a “copy-cat” of One Arvada’s logo, which includes a heart in the middle of the image.

Rodriguez has requested $100,000 in punitive damages and ownership of Walker’s organization’s Facebook page and logo. He has also requested a court order that would require Walker to stop using the trademark and take down her social media posts that mention him.

Ongoing efforts

In the meantime, Walker and Rodriguez have both been working to keep their efforts going.

On the One Arvada social media accounts, Rodriguez created multiple posts in May and June using #thegivingtable and providing information to help combat food insecurity. In comments on these posts, Rodriguez has continued to advertise that “#TheGivingTable is a One Arvada project to promote more folks to start a giving table like Julia’s.”

Walker said she is also determined to continue helping the community even as she has made several adjustments related to the lawsuit.

June 10, she changed the name of her organization to Hope, Connection and Community or HCC. Prior to that, she became unable to find a location to host the table — Jeffco Schools closed its sites for COVID-19 and other locations told Walker they could not allow her to host the event at their sites, worried about possible legal trouble, she said.

Walker transitioned the table into a virtual offering, asking residents to message her with their needs and pick up items from her home.

The transition has cut the number of households she serves each Sunday to around 30, but Walker said she hasn’t let the setback stop her from making plans for growth. She aims to continue running her organization, is running a bike drive through HCC and hopes to hold community events when health restrictions are lifted.

“Those people who never (were in need) all of a sudden got put into that category, but with the table, they have reassurance and a place to come,” Walker said. “It’s included everyone from all walks of life.”

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