Light of Hope 2013: A beacon for those in need

Union Gospel Mission, Community Youth Services report rising number of people who need assistance

Contributing writerDecember 1, 2013 

The Olympian’s Light of Hope illuminates the needs of South Sound people who lack resources and the nonprofits that work with them.

The number of people needing help and hope continues to climb.

“We are serving more than 8,000 meals a month now,” said Kathleen Blanchette, community relations liaison for Olympia Union Gospel Mission, which provides food, medical care and other services to those in need. “A couple of years ago, if you had told us that, we would have said you were crazy. It’s not letting up.”

In May 2012, the nonprofit served about 5,000 meals each month. “That was astronomical to us then,” Blanchette said.

Increasingly, the mission is serving people who have homes yet can’t make ends meet.

“We see a growing population of people who are housed, but can’t meet their rent or their bills and still buy food, so they come here to supplement their budget by eating here, and they also go next door to the food bank to get food to take home,” Blanchette said.

Community Youth Services, which provides shelter, housing and job training for homeless youth, is also serving a larger population these days, said development director Barbara Wakefield.

“The need is very real,” she said. “We are expanding our services this winter and will be opening a new facility on Pear Street once we get it renovated.

“Basically, we’re maxed out on space.”

At Community Youth Services, tents, sleeping bags and other survival gear are needed.

Among the major needs of those the mission serves are men’s jeans in waist sizes 32-36. “It’s the size we hand out most often, and we never seem to have enough of those,” Blanchette said.

Among the items requested by families on the list: A 15-year-old girl wants a zebra-striped comforter and sheets, and Justin Bieber perfume, while a 4-year-old boy is hoping for a skateboard, a dirt bike, action figures and race cars.

However, gifts as simple and small as toothbrushes, toilet paper and paper towels can make a difference.

Gift cards, that staple of modern giving, are also a popular request by individuals and agencies.

“During the holidays, it’s nice because it enables them to buy for the people they care about,” Wakefield said of the youth served by Community Youth Services.

“It enables them to be givers as well as receivers.”

There is good news, though: While the need in the community is growing, many people are stepping up to help.

“We have a huge number of volunteers, and we just couldn’t do it without them,” Blanchette said.

Those volunteers include about 275 people who cook, serve meals and visit with those who come to eat, plus more than 100 volunteers who staff the mission’s dental and vision clinics and its primary care clinic for people with chronic diseases. Some volunteers help with office work, tutoring, yard work and child care.

So many people are giving to the mission that it has created a need for more volunteers.

“We have a special need right now for people to sort clothes,” Blanchette said.

“We get lots of donated clothes.”

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