Light of Hope for people in need living in the South Sound

HELPING OUT: Resources are stretched even thinner as need continues to grow

Staff writerNovember 27, 2011 

Federal and state budget cuts, donor fatigue, increased competition for grants – those are just a few of the Great Recession’s aftershocks that are rattling South Sound’s charities.

“The reality is, resources are extremely tight,” said Robert Coit, executive director of the Thurston County Food Bank. “Charities, in general, are using their cash reserves if they have them, or are just making it from one payroll to the next. And the longer it goes, the more things are at risk.”

Much like the 46,000 people who have been served by the Food Bank this year, workers at the Olympia-based nonprofit are trying to figure out ways to scrimp and make the most of the organization’s resources.

“You’re using scratch paper like crazy,” Coit said. “You don’t turn the heat on as high as you did before. … You use old delivery trucks, and you try to do the oil changes yourself.”

And now, South Sound’s safety net – a network of charities that provide the most basic help for those in need – is being stretched further than usual with adopt-a-family efforts, food baskets and charitable programs that traditionally continue through the holidays.

Readers of The Olympian are invited to help South Sound charities and people in need with Light of Hope, an extensive list of community and individual wishes that readers can help grant during the holidays.

Participation is easy: After scanning the list, if there’s a wish that you would like to grant, simply contact the agency directly and make arrangements for a donation of a gift, service or money.

Some of the wishes could be life-changing, such as the disabled woman with tumors on her esophagus who has asked for a blender so that she can prepare soft foods and increase the variety in her diet; or the elderly woman who lives with congestive heart failure and is hoping that someone could pay for her broken furnace to get checked and possibly even repaired.

The list doesn’t include names, but all of the requests were made on behalf of young children, single moms, veterans, senior citizens, the disabled, the homeless and other people in need.

“For them, this is a way to bring a little Christmas into their lives which they probably wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Merridee Anderson, an assistance specialist with the Lewis-Mason-Thurston Area Agency on Aging. “(Light of Hope) is a wonderful program. It lets clients know somebody hasn’t forgotten them.”

To get a sense of the level of need in South Sound, consider these numbers:

 • 46,000 people are expected to visit the Thurston County Food Bank before the end of 2011. That’s about 6,000 more people than last year.

 • One out of every 3 children in Thurston County’s eight public school districts – nearly 14,000 students in all – qualifies for the free and reduced meals program, an indicator of poverty.

 • 8 percent of Thurston County’s work force – about 10,000 people – was jobless during September. In Mason County, the unemployment rate was 10.4 percent. Lewis County remains one of the state’s highest levels at 12.1 percent. None of the county rates is seasonally adjusted. The state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate is 9 percent.

 • About 1,200 students in the county – a number that rivals the student population at Tumwater High School – were identified as homeless during the 2010-2011 school year, the most recent for which statistics are available.

“These are extremely challenging times financially and emotionally for people,” said Paul Knox, executive director of the United Way of Thurston County. “Everyone knows people who have lost their jobs or have had major challenges.”

In addition to individual and family requests, Light of Hope includes items that can be donated to charities to help continue their work beyond the holiday season.

For example, Turning Pointe Domestic Violence Services – which operates a 54-bed shelter in Shelton – is asking for donations of household goods such as sheets, towels, dishes and appliances.

“Generally they go to the families as they move out of the shelter, as they establish a new residence,” said executive director Cheryl Cathcart.

Meantime, Community Youth Services in Olympia is asking for blankets, tarps, sleeping bags and other survival gear that can be given to homeless and high-risk youths and their families.

Donated items will go to help youths such as the young man who recently braved stormy weather while wearing a pair of children’s boots.

“They were way too small for him, but at least they were keeping his feet dry,” said Susan Alexander, director of resource development and community relations.

Workers were able to find a pair of boots that fit the young man, and then it was time to move on to the next emergency.

“The level of need never goes down,” Alexander said. “Especially in the colder months. Especially during the holiday times.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

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