South Kitsap Helpline thanks you for support but needs more

Sound Off is a public forum. Articles are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, South Kitsap Helpline director Jennifer Hardison thanks those who assist the food bank, but notes that with the current demand, more assistance is needed.

All of us at the South Kitsap Helpline are so very grateful for the outpouring of support from the community that we have received over recent weeks as it has been made more aware publicly that our agency is struggling.

Many nonprofits tread water throughout the years and manage to stay afloat but when facing economic times in our country like we find ourselves currently in, those of us in nonprofit agencies find ourselves in a real predicament — we’re receiving less income because people’s budgets are tighter, we are paying higher expenses (groceries, utilities, etc.), and in addition, we’re seeing a much greater demand for our services because people are really struggling financially.

Needless to say, times can quickly get really tough.

I’m sorry to say that we’re not the only food bank or social service agency that finds itself experiencing hard times these days. In recent news, I have seen two other food banks in our state completely shut their doors within the last few months and that is absolutely tragic--and unnecessary.

Fortunately, Helpline is surrounded by a wonderful community that has always stepped up to help us out when times become difficult, so hopefully closing our doors will not ever be anything we ever have to face.

On average, with our community’s support, our terrific team made up of very committed staff and volunteers help to provide more than 10,000 local families each year with groceries that they would otherwise go without.

Our food bank is open five days each week for people to receive help.

Through our agency, we also offer holiday food baskets for both Thanksgiving and Christmas to hundreds of local families: each year staff and volunteers put on a holiday toy shop with new toys donated by our community for thousands of local children who might not receive gifts for Christmas.

We offer special summer programs specifically designed to provide additional food help to families with children. We put on fundraisers and coordinate food drives, while cultivating and maintaining many very successful partnerships with local civic and community organizations, businesses, churches and the entire South Kitsap School District who has always been the utmost supportive of our efforts in every possible way.

We do all of these things while also operating a consignment and thrift store at the Westbay Center that is open six days each week which helps to benefit our food bank and programs.

Let’s just say at the South Kitsap Helpline, we stay pretty busy year-round.

With some unfortunate but necessary recent budget cuts, our agency lost three valuable part-time staff members and three of our remaining staff of seven had their hours cut, which has been difficult for everyone here.

Besides creating a few more struggling households in our community with these cuts, our hardworking staff was already spread thin enough beforehand.

Despite the hard times and budget cuts, Helpline has served those in need in South Kitsap and beyond for more than 28 years so far and will continue to do so in the very best way that we can — and we will do this in a way that has the least negative impact on those who need our services.

How can people get involved and make a difference? There are so many ways.

We are currently looking for board members who have a passion for helping people in crisis who also have the available time to help with fundraising and other agency needs.

It is critical that we have an active board to help support our staff and the part about having “available time” is really key to the kind of board members we need.

All of the best intentions don’t help at all if you are already overextended and don’t have the time to help.

This past year we lost some really incredible board members, the Cheneys and the VonDitters. All four contributed to our mission not only financially, but even more, they contributed their valuable time, energy and resources.

To lose them was terribly detrimental to our agency and we have felt their loss greatly. Our existing board members are great and help as much as possible but can’t do everything that needs to be done without more help.

Can you help them? We would love to meet you.

Another way to help is to donate food on a regular basis to our food bank. Donate good, non-expired, healthy food and only food that you would want to feed to your own families.

Better yet, you can call us for a pledge form and choose to make a regular contribution — even $5 or $10 per month really helps.

We can automatically take it out of your checking or savings account on a monthly basis to save you the time and hassle of having to remember to mail a check.

Contributing this way will not only help us to purchase necessary food which we can buy cheaper in bulk, it can help to pay for gas and required maintenance for the trucks we pick up food with, it can be used to help pay the high electric costs to run our walk-in freezer and refrigerator units.

It can be used to ensure that the lights in the kitchen stay on so we can see to pack grocery bags for the people who come in to our food bank for food.

You can help too by shopping in our store, Vintage to Vogue, located in downtown Port Orchard in the Westbay Center across from KFC.

It is full of reasonably priced, new and used clothing and accessories, artwork, furniture, antiques, household items, seasonal items and much more.

And when you are enjoying all of the deals you find, be sure to tell every single one of your friends. And hopefully they will tell their friends and so on…the more funding we are able to bring in through the store, the less we have to rely on donations and charity from other sources.

You can also help by donating clean and useable items for resale (yes, we still do take store donations). But because we can’t afford a big waste disposal bill, unfortunately we can’t take donations that we will have to pay to take to the dump.

Other larger resale businesses can afford to take everything because they have larger budgets which cover the disposal costs, so please don’t be offended.

Again, as with the food, please only donate to our store what you would buy for your family or for your home. Please take anything stained, dirty or covered in cobwebs straight to the dump.

We just don’t have the necessary manpower or the space to thoroughly clean items or to make any major repairs. We thank you for your understanding.

As we take this time to thank all who have recently contributed during this difficult time for our agency, I would be remiss not to mention the contributors who donate to the South KItsap Helpline on a regular basis.

We are so fortunate to have churches, civic groups and organizations, businesses, schools and individuals that regularly mail us a check or stop by with food donations and we truly appreciate that.

These unsung heroes go above and beyond to help and keep this agency going when our store sales are low and during those other times of the year when no one else remembers we are here.

To those of you who make it a point to contribute to our agency on a regular basis, our hats are off to you. Many thanks for all you do.

As we begin to venture into even more precarious financial times, I have no doubt that the need for services like ours will continue to remain very high and will become unprecedented.

Two years ago, our food bank was serving a little more than half of the number of families we are serving now and it was difficult for us then. We are now distributing groceries to anywhere from 50-80 families each day our food bank is open.

Please remember to help when and where you can, if you can, because you just never know when the tables will turn and you may be the one needing help one day.

Thank you so much for your support.

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