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Pain at the Pump: Nonprofits’ pockets are being pinched

Raelena Rodriquez’s office is a hopping place these days. The client services advocate for the North Kitsap Fishline finds her time is in shorter supply as rising gas prices drive more people into her office. While a bigger chunk of the Average Joe’s budget is shifted to their fuel tank, some are forced to turn to local food banks to put meals on the table.

“You’d be surprised who comes in here,” she said. As of late, Rodriquez has seen more clients who are in the working-class poor category — those who work part- or full-time but simply don’t make enough money to survive. She estimates her client numbers have risen about 20 percent since January.

It’s a simple lesson in supply and demand economics, but on a grander scale. While gas prices continue to rise, personal pocketbooks are getting thinner. As a result, more people are turning to the community’s resources for help.

As the resources try to meet the increasing demand, nonprofits are feeling a pinch of their own. More to the point, they’re being financially tarred and feathered. They, too, have to deal with higher gas and food prices. In addition, they receive fewer donations because their contributors have less to give.

It’s not a pretty situation. And it’s universal.

“One of the significant programs we provide is home heating assistance,” said Larry Eyer, executive director of Kitsap Community Resources (KCR). “We’ve seen significant increase in oil and natural gas. Electricity went up as well. It all goes back to oil. Couple that with the colder-than-normal winter we had, and we’ve gone through our resources relatively quickly.”

The Bremerton-based KCR services clients throughout Kitsap County, so there is a significant amount of travel involved.

“We weatherize homes throughout the county to help people deal with heat costs and reduce those costs. Our auditors have to go out and arrange for contractors,” he said. “The cost of gas all feeds into that.”

KCR also prepares and delivers meals for other organizations, like Chuckwagon and Head Start. This is a triple whammy, as it has to cover the rising cost of food in the preparation, the rising cost of gas in the food delivery and the rising cost of natural gas in the kitchen.

“It really is putting on a lot of pressure,” Eyer said.

Another county-wide agency, the United Way, feels the same pain, said Patricia Hennessy, director of resource development. United Way has seen donations go down across the board while requests have gone up 24 percent. Each of the the United Way’s partner agencies are receiving less money this year than in the past, according to a press release sent out Thursday.

“With rising gas prices, everyone is feeling the pinch. I know it costs me a heck of a lot more to put gas in my car,” she said. “People are making choices. We hear it all the time. Do I buy gas or do I buy food? Do I go to a food bank? Do I buy my prescription medication or pay my electric bill?”

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