South Kitsap Helpline tyring to grow a sustainable future

If they could pay the bills with beans — or tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and basil — the folks at South Kitsap Helpline wouldn’t be over a barrel at harvest time.

The nonprofit agency runs a community food bank that helps thousands of people in need every month, and in these hard economic times there’s an enormous need.

The staff that keeps the food bank going — with the invaluable help of a dedicated corps of volunteers — took a hit recently when two part-time paid staff positions were eliminated, and the hours were reduced for all seven remaining paid staff, including the director.

Cutting expenses from an already-strained operating budget is the reality right now as the nonprofit agency struggles to pay its bills, including the $5,000 monthly mortgage payment on the old Port Orchard Nursery. Helpline was able to acquire the property as a permanent home for its operations with a special grant from the Birkenfeld Trust last year.

Taking on a mortgage (with the previous nursery owners carrying the loan) may seem like the organization overextended itself, but executive director Jennifer Hardison notes that the payment is actually less than the rent they would have been paying had Helpline stayed at the downtown location where they used to run a thrift store and consignment operation.

Relocating to the nursery site was a good move because it offers plenty of long-term opportunities for generating revenue (from selling herbs, plant starts and flowers) to help sustain the food bank. And the bounty of vegetables harvested from gardens there adds a fresh, healthy supplement to their food boxes.

But grant funding is harder to secure these days, and while community support has been generous it’s not enough to keep pace with increased demand for the food bank’s services.

Hopefully the agency can bring in more revenue in the future from finding more outlets to sell what they grow, in local stores and restaurants and other venues, because this community needs groups like this to survive.

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