The programs that ShareNet has been able to bring to the greater Kingston area since 2008 are all dependent on funding from local residents and businesses. Programs like F2GO (Food to Grow On in our four local public schools), Crisis Assistance (energy shutoff and eviction prevention), and Fresh Look (produce distribution) are all funded through donations made by people like you.
Most of these donations come in through our annual fundraiser, Neighbor Aid, a direct mailer which arrived in homes at the end of October.
For such a comparatively small agency, ShareNet has taken on a lot of additional work and cost in these programs. Even many large-scale food banks do not vary from their core food provision mission to operate programs like these. We made this investment in the community because we saw the need. We were able to do it because donations during the recession years, particularly at the beginning of it, were at a record high.
If you’ve been to the ShareNet site, you know we get a lot done with a little. We have a relatively small, challenging space to work from and in, and we have a fraction of the budget and staffing of, say, our counterpart down the road, Fishline.
Yet this small space and staff are filled with heart, and the will to make a difference in our community. ShareNet is truly a place where the work is lived, and experienced by all as a love for helping.
ShareNet did not start out to become a full-service agency. But when you see real struggle and heartache every day, and in addition have the opportunity to meet those needs better, you evolve and grow into something else. We were only able to start and operate these programs because we had the community support.
The need is still there; we get word every day from a family member or a staffer in one of our local schools about how important F2GO is to the schools and to the community. We have never put a cap on this program, or told the schools we couldn’t add more students.
We get word every day about assistance provided in one of our seasonal events. We have clients tell us how their health has improved since our targeted purchases of fresh and frozen produce began.
Food banks across the country are facing a new reality though: news of the economy is better, and probably as a result donations are significantly down, both in giving throughout the year, and via fundraisers. This is true even while food bank service numbers have not significantly declined, the way you might expect them to in an improved economy.
Research suggests several reasons for this: more people are working lower-wage jobs, more of these jobs are part time, and more baby boomers without adequate retirement are crossing that threshold, and ours, everyday. In any case, the majority of ShareNet’s service is to two groups: children and the elderly.
At this writing in early December, Neighbor Aid 2015 has a long way to go in a scant three weeks to reach even 2014’s level, which in turn was down from previous years.
Sustained reductions in support will eventually mean reduction or discontinuation of these programs, which depend almost exclusively on the success of this campaign and small private donations from our local community.
The myth still persists that food banks get everything donated, so there’s little cost in operating one. Some food banks do attempt to operate from purely donated stock, but ShareNet has always wanted to offer more than randomly donated goods of varying quality and freshness.
Depending on the alliances and connections they’ve made and qualified for, food banks do receive donated food, and upon further qualification some small federal funding. Any funding of that type also comes with the cost of administering and reporting on it. But neither stream is anywhere near enough to operate at our current service levels.
The majority of what we distribute, whether on a weekly basis through the food bank or via seasonal events, must be purchased.
We remain hopeful there will be enough to continue these vital programs despite what appears to be a declining funding climate.
We are trying to forge ahead despite the challenges. In 2016 ShareNet will offer COMPASS Vocational Services at our site and other locations to be named in the community.
This will include vocational assessment, one on one counseling, case management, and education and skill-building workshops. This will be detailed further in upcoming articles.
— Mark Ince is executive director of ShareNet. Contact him at 360-297-2266 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ShareNet is located at 26061 United Road, Kingston.