KINGSTON — Are you just a paycheck away from relying on the services of ShareNet Food Bank?
According to new statistics from the u.s. Census Bureau, 51 million Americans are living just above the poverty line.
In a United Way national study conducted earlier this year, 10 states including — Washington, Oregon, and Idaho — were assessed to see how many families are living at the poverty line. The acronym, ALICE, describes families that are “Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed.” Stats reflecting on local ALICE families yielded surprising results.
In Kingston, 23 percent of the households are ALICE households. In the remaining towns that comprise the ShareNet service area, Hansville is at 16 percent, Indianola is at 19 percent, and Port Gamble is at 29 percent.
With adjacent communities of Poulsbo and Suquamish both at 25 percent and several low-income housing properties in the process of converting to market rate, ShareNet’s two part-time staff members and 60 active volunteers are concerned for the future.
Annually, ShareNet assists in 12,000 to 14,000 service instances. Its clients include older residents and those with disabilities, but children are the biggest demographic of those served.
“Our focus is beyond the need to help on a daily basis, but to ask how we alter this future and break this pattern,” Ince said. “Our school sponsorship has really increased over the last year. We have a partnership with each of our four local schools.”
In addition to the Food to Grow On program, helping provide food for students during the school year, ShareNet also sponsors events at Wolfle Elementary, such as Family Math and Reading Night, and Love and Logic program for parents.
ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, are events considered to directly relate to poverty within the family.
Ince hopes ShareNet’s efforts to prevent and mitigate ACEs will help the eradicate poverty in the future.
“This lays groundwork for the future,” he said. “If those kids are getting some of these benefits from the school programs, maybe they can later break their cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity. If we can help teach a parent to deal with challenges better or provide food for a dark time in their family’s life, those connections may seem small but may pay big dividends in the future. That’s the hope.”
As a state-registered non-profit operating under the 501c3 of Bayside Community Church, ShareNet serves Eglon, Hansville, Indianola, Kingston, Little Boston, Port Gamble and a portion of Poulsbo and Suquamish. It operates a food bank and thrift store, and provides emergency food provisions, and emergency utility and rental assistance for residents faced with shut-off notices or eviction.
Unlike other food banks, ShareNet even provides locally grown and organic produce. Through the Giving Garden operated by Kingston Farm and Garden co-op, it receives about 3,000 pounds of fresh produce annually.
“This is a way for ShareNet to really focus and expand out of [the] typical food bank offering to make the food bank more diverse, nutritious and client-health focused,” Ince said. “Our clients are so grateful for this, they mention to us all the time [that] the produce makes them feel healthier.”
ShareNet is affiliated with the Kitsap County Food Bank Coalition, the Washington Food Coalition, Feeding America, Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest, and uses the purchasing power of these networks to help stretch every dollar of its annual budget of roughly $150,000.
Ince said although the economy seems to be improving, the number of service instances remains the same. But despite the affordable housing crisis and the rise of “shadow poverty,” donations are down while the number of those in need is expected to rise.
“We’re seeing two new rising demographics: people who are spending almost everything they earn on housing, and the newly homeless group,” he said. “We’re seeing as many as we saw between 2008-2010 at the height of the economic crisis.”
Although the widespread perception is that the economy is getting better because more people are working, “the fact is ShareNet’s numbers have not dipped,” he said. “It’s on track to be level with or have increased since last year.”
He added, “We expected, with all the economic indications, that the numbers would also dip, but they haven’t,” he said. “There’s a lot of demand in the community. Food banks around the county and across the country continue to struggle.”
In order for ShareNet to continue to offer a variety of services to those in need, it relies on community support.
“If you’ve never donated to ShareNet before, it would be a great time,” Ince encouraged. “There are so many people on the edge of poverty, people right on the line, spending every penny they earn on getting through the month. There’s way more people living under those conditions than we’ve ever had before.
“For ShareNet to be able to offer all those different services, and not put a cap on our programs, is totally dependent on community support.”
He added, “It’s a hard thing to ask, as each of us has our own struggle. But we’re asking people to feel responsibility to everyone in community who’s more vulnerable … That’s the whole concept of ShareNet — we share the responsibility and that’s how we serve the community.”
ShareNet’s annual NeighborAid fundraising campaign — which determines the level of service ShareNet is able offer in the coming year — is underway through the end of 2016.
TO GIVE: ShareNet is located at 6061 United Road, Kingston, WA 98346. ShareNet’s mailing address is P.O. Box 250, Kingston, WA 98346. Telephone: 360-297-2266. Online: www. sharenetfoodbank.org.
— Sophie Bonomi, is the editor of Kingston Community News, can be reached at sbonomi@sound publishing.com.