Helpline’s problems are all of our problem
By MARY COLBORN
Port Orchard Independent columnist
September 5, 2008 · Updated 12:58 PM
Have you ever wondered how things could get this bad?
You thought you could stave off the worst of the problems, but you can’t. Everywhere you turn, troubles abound.
Is it is safe to answer the phone or open the door, you wonder?
It seems like everyone has his or her hands out and there’s nothing left to give. Your purses are empty.
And, yet more bill collectors come round asking for money and more people depending on you are looking hungry and afraid.
It was just a matter of time. Everyone could see it coming.
Gas prices went up, along with food. The credit and housing crisis are squeezing everyone.
You’re not alone.
You think about asking for help, but you’ve always been the strong one. Now, though, it seems as if you’re falling apart, even fighting with the ones you love.
And besides that, people can’t give you any more.
It’s unfair to ask. And yet, if you don’t, you’ll collapse.
And then what would happen?
There should be organizations or agencies to help you, right? People who care?
You wonder with some bitterness why no one stepped up when they had the chance. Why did they let you down?
Or did you let yourself down?
Yes, there should be some agency or organization to help. You know that.
Except, you also know that agency is you.
How do you survive when you’re the South Kitsap Helpline and you went from feeding 40 families a day last summer to nearly 80 this year? Eighty families a day visiting the food bank, or nearly 400 a week, or more than 1,700 a month amounts to a lot of people to feed, especially when donations are down.
Staff are so overworked, morale has plummeted. In cases like these, people start seeking someone to blame.
Can we blame the staff? Are they too tender-hearted? Not business-minded enough?
Should they be all volunteers? Would that make sense when the job is so demanding?
Volunteers have to eat, too.
What of the board? Why haven’t they stepped up? They showed so much promise. Why have they let politics stand in the way of real accomplishment?
You have to wonder why they wouldn’t or couldn’t use their talents and skills.
For instance, past board member Bev Cheney and husband Don personally contributed, but there are a number of things she failed to do.
She could have forged a partnership between the school district and the food bank, merging the summer art program of the foodbank with the Boys & Girls Club summer program.
Heck, she could have sought a grant and kept the district kitchens open to feed children over the summer, like Bremerton does.
Why didn’t she?
And, why couldn’t someone with monetary expertise help the organizations with its financial records, prepping them for submission for grants?
In fact, why can’t someone create financial management classes for food bank clients and teach them how to avoid common banking mistakes?
And, what of the members of local service organizations? You would think they could work out some use or even purchase of the building on Mitchell Avenue.
It’s as if the board failed the foodbank and the community in turn.
Why? Unless, as people, we always think we are less capable and powerful than we really are and the board, like us, doesn’t always believe in itself.
But then again, maybe it is too easy to assign blame. Really, who can you blame?
I have my favorites, but none of those come any closer to feeding all those hungry families.
So what do we do? Do we allow Helpline to collapse? Would finding it a new home be the answer?
Should nonprofits, like St. Vincent de Paul, KCR and Helpline be along prime waterfront property? Do we determine if we can get by without a foodbank? Or do we abolish the existing board and restructure the entire organization?
Or do we decide that placing blame won’t solve our crisis, it will just dissipate our energy.
We can step up, in small ways.
We can, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suggested, “Give what you have. To someone else it may be better than you dare to think,” believing as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”
There are ways, ways to keep families fed and kids from going hungry. I know that you can think of many.
This Saturday and Sunday at the Chamber of Commerce’s Murder Mystery pirate event downtown, there will be places to offer donations: Mallory Jackson will have three tubs outside her frame shop near the registration for the event.
She plans to donate $100 of her earnings.
Rings & Things has set up its shop up as a regular collection location.
Several farmer’s market vendors and local merchants, including Paul Nuchims, are donating produce from their gardens.
Helpline had hoped to have a booth at the pirate market on Saturday and Sunday and a derby in the race, but with all the staff layoffs, its didn’t have the employees nor the volunteers to man either.
Kitsap Community Credit Union has a limited time new membership drive designed to support Kitsap County foodbanks. Whenever an existing member brings in someone new, $100 is divided three ways - $33 to the existing member, $33 to the new and $34 to the local foodbank.
Organizations are stepping up, too. The 26th Dems collected $150 in two minutes in honor of Lois Knutson, a major Port Orchard peace activist.
If the 26th Republicans will accept the challenge, we can double that amount. Monty Mahan does amazing work as Pierce County Conservation District Director and he has volunteered to purchase produce from Washington state farmers if we can raise money or find grants to do so.
I’ll leave it to your ideas.
Somehow we have to figure out a way to keep people from going hungry this fall and winter.
Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.