ShareNet has been serving the most vulnerable people in our community for over 25 years. How does a mission evolve over 25 year, and how does it stay the same?
ShareNet began as a church food closet and quickly realized from the lines out the door there were deep needs in the community not being met. This need required a community location with access for all and a serious investment in operating standards. Today, ShareNet serves all in need in the communities of Kingston, Hansville, Indianola, Eglon, Little Boston and Port Gamble, and meets the operating and regulatory requirements of valued partners like the USDA, the WSDA, Northwest Harvest, Feeding America, Food Lifeline, Washington Food Coalition, Kitsap County Food Bank Coalition and the Washington State Department of Health.
ShareNet began by distributing whatever food we could get our hands on, mostly donated. Today, most food is purchased on the open market or through networks available to registered food banks, or through farm/garden contracts. In the beginning providing any food was prioritized over providing healthy food. Today, providing food that is as nutritious as possible within our means is now a priority, as well as providing a spectrum of other assistance including shelter, utilities, hygiene and transportation. Misperceptions still exist about who food banks serve. Our demographics break down like this: children, seniors, our neighbors who work low-wage or part-time jobs and disabled adults.
According to the Department of Human Services, the average rent at the end of 2017 was $1323, a 47 percent increase over 2014. Seniors, low-income families and people with disabilities are meeting that cost only by huge sacrifices in spending on food and other basic needs. About 15 percent of local children live in poverty, according to an assessment conducted by Kitsap Community Resources between 2014-2017. The service increases ShareNet saw after the economic events of 2008 have never substantially declined even amid recovery indicators, because the populations we serve didn’t recover. Rents haven’t reduced, affordable housing units haven’t increased and rents are far outpacing wages.
This situation is a recipe that makes basic needs support more relevant than ever. ShareNet has evolved by responding to the needs we’ve seen come through our doors, and the community has been generous enough to help us support those needs. After 2008, everyone had a friend, neighbor or family member who was struggling somehow, and the issues of food insecurity and economic insecurity generally became front page news, affecting most instead of some. Even amid the hardship, maybe especially because of the hardship, it was one of those moments of national togetherness. The headlines have receded, and poverty is again a selective issue with a selective memory. But the struggle goes on for many, more than you would ever think, and ShareNet is your local front line.
Sounds simple. Food banks give away food, right? But over time ShareNet has come to mean so much more to our community: a place that contributes to childhood development through programs like Food2GO and sponsorship of local schools; a place where vulnerable seniors find resources; a place where the community-at-large connects to address some of the biggest challenges people face — poverty, shelter and health. The stats have changed drastically, from 2,000 services in 2012 to over 15,000 in 2017, but we’re still committed to each individual who comes to us in need of assistance. We hope you will join us in this commitment to the community by investing in local children and seniors through our annual fundraiser Neighbor Aid 2018.
Mark Ince is the executive director at ShareNet. He can be reached at 360-297-2266 x 3, or firstname.lastname@example.org.