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Fishline ‘meets you where you’re at’
POULSBO — Like others who find themselves in her situation, Tami Fioranelli never thought she’d need the help of others to put food on her table and have a safe place to sleep.
She grew up in Bellevue where, she said, “money was not an issue.” She attended a Bible college in Allentown, Pa., where she met her future husband, who became a non-denominational pastor.
They lived in several communities on the East Coast, raised three children, and bought a home in Interlochen, Mich. As a pastor’s wife, Fioranelli was accustomed to counseling people and helping them with their needs.
“I like to help people, but I don’t know how to ask for help,” Fioranelli said.
Her life changed in 2009. Her marriage ended in divorce and she returned to Seattle as a single mom. She got into a relationship with Mr. Right who turned out to be an abusive Mr. Wrong, and escaped to North Kitsap. She and her daughter stayed briefly in a shelter.
With North Kitsap Fishline’s help, she got back on her feet. She received food from Fishline’s food bank and clothing for work from Second Season. The non-profit then connected her with Housing Kitsap, which helped her find an apartment. She’s now a hair stylist at Moxey Salon and donates when she can to local food banks.
“I don’t know how to ask for help, but Fishline made it easy,” Fioranelli said. “They don’t judge you. They meet you where you’re at.”
A lot of people helped by Fishline have stories like Fioranelli’s; because of unforeseen circumstances, they’ve reached the limits of their resources. Eighty percent of Fishline’s food bank clients have one or more jobs, Fishline executive director Mary Nader said. Twenty-five percent are seniors; that means at least 5 percent are working seniors. And 10 percent of clients are having trouble putting food on their tables because they’ve been set back by a health crisis.
Fishline is part of North Kitsap’s safety net, providing a variety of services to make sure people have what they need to improve their circumstances. The organization’s annual appeal is going on now, and Fishline hopes to raise enough money to expand its services.
Fishline is more than a food bank. It provides free cell phones for homeless clients, on-site registration for SNAP Food Benefits, referrals for free financial and employment counseling, and bus tokens for people needing to get to and from jobs, interviews and medical appointments.
Fishline provides emergency food boxes, grocery delivery service for homebound clients, and a weekend backpack program for children who may not otherwise receive enough food when not in school.
Ensuring children have access to adequate nutrition heads off impacts that can last a lifetime, Nader said. Food insecurity in children impairs learning, creates poor eating habits, invites obesity, affects self-image, and affects peer pressure and socialization.
Fishline has several programs to help fend off homelessness. Fishline can help eligible clients who have difficulty paying all of the up-front fees when renting a new place to live, and has a rent assistance program to help people who have been served with an eviction notice.
Fishline provides one-time rental and mortgage assistance for those experiencing financial crisis. Its home-share program pairs home owners at risk of foreclosure with people looking for a room to rent; the program gets the homeowner some help making the house payment, and the renter a place to live until his or her circumstances improve. Fishline can also help people faced with utility disconnection.
Fishline works with local motels and other venues to provide from two to five nights of emergency shelter. Another program provides a safe parking location for single women who are temporarily living in their vehicles.
Fishline also connects clients with credit counseling and financial education, free legal assistance, and assistance with medical and dental care.
The need is growing.
According to Nader, Fishline is on track to handle 28,200 visits this year, up from 22,117 in 2009. It will distribute 1.375 million pounds of food, up from 966,100 in 2009.
Fishline’s programs are designed to help people survive crisis and move on to stable, productive lives. “We are determined to not just assist for the moment, but to be a part of the renewal each one of us deserves when tough times come,” Nader wrote in her annual appeal letter.
Fishline hopes to move to a larger site and sell its 3rd Avenue location. Moving out of its cramped quarters would enable Fishline to better meet current needs, as well as present classes in financial budgeting and home health care, and provide a computer lab for job hunters and a commercial kitchen for training.
Here’s how people can help Fishline during its annual appeal:
— Donate food. It might be a couple of cans from your pantry, or food collected from neighbors. Food drives generated 76,484 pounds of food donations this year, Nader said.
— Be a Hunger Hero or a Backpack Friend. Hunger Heroes commit to provide a consistent source of food donations all year. Some of the larger Hunger Heroes are Albertsons, Central Market, Oroweat, Panera, Starbucks and Walmart, who collectively contributed 684,826 pounds of food.
— Donate money. Some people have foregone birthday and holiday gifts in favor of donations to Fishline. According to Nader, $7 provides a weekend of food for a child, $10 buys eight jars of peanut butter, $20 buys four days of food for a family of four, $100 helps someone keep their heat and lights on for one month.
“What we are doing is making a difference,” Nader wrote in her appeal letter. “With your help, we will continue this mission and realize our mutual goal of a home town where all have the basics of life.”