ShareNet feeds increasing need in North Kitsap

(Above) Sharenet volunteers Julie Morrison, right, and Debbie Sheffer share a laugh in the foodbank.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
(Above) Sharenet volunteers Julie Morrison, right, and Debbie Sheffer share a laugh in the foodbank.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

If the economy is rising from its funk, you wouldn’t know it from a visit to the ShareNet food bank Kingston.

Demand for its services are still sky high, up about 130 percent from just two years ago.

Clients stream through ShareNet’s building off Bond Road on mornings when the food bank is open, keeping volunteers hustling in the cramped pantry. ShareNet is on track to serve 8,000 people in 2009.

“There is no down time anymore,” food bank Manager Kathy Melseth said.

The good news, said ShareNet Executive Director Mark Ince, is the hunger for services has so far been matched by the generosity of donors.

ShareNet will launch its annual Neighbor Aid fund drive in October. The money benefits the food bank and pays for ShareNet’s crisis assistance program, which helps recipients pay utility and rent bills.

Neighbor Aid raised more than $60,000 in 2008. That success means ShareNet still has money this late in the year, at a time when other service organizations are scraping the financial bottom.

“We have less trouble than other food banks keeping food on the shelves and that’s because people are willing to give,” Melseth said.

The numbers illustrate the scope of the surge in demand.

ShareNet distributes about 15,000 pounds of food each month, Melseth said. That’s twice what it would have cycled through a year ago. On a typical day, the food bank serves more than 20 people during the four hours it’s open.

More telling than the numbers are the families they represent.

Since the economic recession began, ShareNet has been serving an increasing number of people newly unemployed or struggling to keep their homes. Homelessness is also on the rise in the county.

“We are seeing a whole new trend in clientele,” Ince said. “People who are brand new to us, who have never been to a food bank before and never thought they would.”

Some find help through ShareNet’s bill assistance program. ShareNet earmarked $25,000 from Neighbor Aid 2008 for its bill and rent assistance program. It partners with the Poulsbo chapter of St. Vincent de Paul to screen recipients.

Some rely on the food bank service so they can keep up with other expenses.

“There are so many people with bills they can’t pay,” Melseth said. “We’re at least able to help them use what funds they do have. I tell people, ‘I can give you food, but I can’t pay your phone bill. Let me help you any way I can.”

With the help of donations of money and infusions of produce from local farms and stores, Melseth has so far had plenty to offer.

“As long as I have something to give, I’m fine,” she said.

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