High prices send clients to Fishline

Fishline board member and volunteer Peggi Horn sorts linens at the Poulsbo thrift shop. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Fishline board member and volunteer Peggi Horn sorts linens at the Poulsbo thrift shop.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Food bank, resource center looks to donations to make community support possible.

POULSBO — It was the need for medicine that brought first-time North Kitsap Fishline client Susan through the establishment’s doors last week.

She said she’d taken her resources as far as they could go, and finally just couldn’t “stretch it anymore.”

At 53, Susan, who said she suffers from a depressive disorder that has unexpectedly worsened with age, is a former special education teacher and, ironically, a previous food bank volunteer. She’s been unemployed for the last three years, and is currently living with family in Poulsbo.

After seeing a flyer about the agency’s services, asking the nonprofit for help for the first time was a step she said was hard to take, but an easier one than facing no help at all.

“I wasn’t expecting to get hit this hard. I always thought that I had more time to build that nest egg,” she said.

Susan wasn’t the only one leaning on Fishline for a helping hand that morning. Before the doors even opened a dozen kids and adults waited on the steps. This year, the food bank and resource center has seen a 38 percent increase in clientele. Executive Director Karen Timken says it’s an increase that’s complicating operations, but is easy to explain.

“It’s pretty basic,” Timken said. “It’s the economy.”

Facing numerous first-time clients, Fishline is tightening its operations belt. Monetary support comes from just two resources: its thrift store sales and community contributions.

And while donations haven’t waned in the face of economic hardship — “God bless Poulsbo and North Kitsap, they are so wonderful,” Timken said — the increase in clients has made stretching generosities a harder task.

“We’re seeing a bigger increase of clients who’ve never used the services before,” Timken explained. “There are so many people that right now are hanging by a thread. The minute you talk to them and say ‘we can help you’ they just burst into tears.”

With an impending increase in unemployed seasonal workers and worsening economic climate, Timken said she expects the percentage hike to raise another two or three notches. Already in 2008, 32 families have received rent assistance and 60 have received gasoline assistance from Fishline; at last year’s end those numbers were 12 and zero, respectively.

Timken said 32 percent of Fishline’s clients are from the Kingston area, the rest from Poulsbo and its surroundings. In 2007, 10,653 unduplicated visits were documented; 2008 has already seen 6,217 — up 890 unduplicated visits from last year, Timken said.

With gasoline driving up not only the cost of getting to work but the expense of buying groceries, she said many times self-sufficients hold back on asking for help. The situation often becomes a pride vs. parenting one, in which people take to Fishline driven by wanting to provide more for their kids.

“Every day it breaks my heart,” she said. “A lot of these people are hurting because they don’t have gas to get to work.”

Single-parent families and the working poor are common clients, she added.

“I ask (community members) to consider, and really try and think about what it’s like to be in this other situation,” Timken said. “All it takes is a moment. It’s a matter of remembering to donate, whether by dropping off or mailing in items or funds.”

And for those struggling to meet their own needs, “pennies” can still help, she said.

Checks sent in can be designated to certain areas (i.e. food, school supplies) or will be distributed to Fishline’s greatest areas of need. All donations are tax deductible, and money spent by Fishline on food can purchase up to one third more than can usually bought at a grocery store.

For Susan, a single individual not yet old enough to benefit from senior programs and not in a position to apply for family-related support, she said she feels many in her position often fall through the cracks, and appreciated the respect felt immediately when through Fishline’s doors.

“Being a single person, it’s exceptionally difficult because I don’t qualify for a lot of things because I don’t have children,” she said. “People like myself, it’s a shadowland. It’s filled with intellectual, productive people that are either living in fear or living in shame.”

But despite her struggles, “that doesn’t mean I should be living under an overpass in a refrigerator box,” she said. “I’m worth more than that.”

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