Flooding damage has SK Helpline looking to future

There are some days for leadership at South Kitsap Helpline where it’s harder than others to play the waiting game for 2024, the year the hunger relief agency expects to start construction on a new facility that would prove to be game-changing in its mission.

Dec. 5 was a miserable reminder of that wait, heavy rains contributing to significant damage to the dry food supply kept at the agency’s Port Orchard property.

Helpline executive director Jennifer Hardison estimated that at least $6,000 of damage to their stock was caused when flood water levels in the basement reached to over a foot high overnight. Leadership estimates the losses could very well be more when the mess is cleaned up.

South Kitsap Fire and Rescue responded to the scene, helping pump out the water over multiple hours. Puddles remained all over the floor as Hardison and others worked to clean the ruined product off the ground.

The agency has commonly dealt with flooding issues in recent years at the aging property, which was acquired in 2010. “Normally when it floods, it’s still underneath the pallet boards we have everything on in the basement,” she said. “Even if we had double-stacked pallets this time, the food would still be wet.”

What likely did the most damage to the supply was the water damage taken by the first level of boxes. Even small amounts of water can cause cardboard boxes to lose their physical structure, and while Hardison did not like it, she knew what might come next.

“The boxes on top just eventually fell over into the water,” she said. “It was very disheartening to see.”

Despite the constant risk, the basement of the house had been regarded as one of the only safe spaces for the protection of the dry food in the house. The agency’s offices are also located in the home.

Hardison explained that its greenhouse setups cannot be assured to remain free of moisture or critters. The agency is ordering more setups such as dry boxes to help maintain its remaining and incoming supply.

“When people ask why South Kitsap Helpline needs a building for our agency, the flooding from the rain last night that we have in our basement…is just one of a thousand or more reasons,” leadership posted on the Helpline Facebook page.

There is still plenty of reason to be excited about the future for Helpline despite the present damage. Work to develop a new building on the grounds is slowly nearing the construction phase, which Hardison says she expects to cost in the $8 million to $9 million range after cost-cutting measures are taken.

Drawings of the building design indicate a structure just under 10,000 square feet that will replace much of the existing property. The inside indicates a commercial cafeteria just beyond the front greeting area for hot meals, a kids corner, a new greenhouse area, and a market more in the design of a grocery store setup.

“If we were building on a piece of land that was just cleaned up and ready to go, that would save us some money, but at least we don’t have to go out and actually buy land,” Hardison said. “We are looking and finding some ways to cut costs, though.”

As for finances, Helpline expects to receive grant funding both to demolish and clear current facilities and to help with construction. Hardison also hinted at the possibility of legislature-motivated monies being donated to the cause.

“We’re looking forward to the day where we don’t have to need a ton of dry boxes, where we don’t have something like this happen. It’ll be a very exciting time for us.”