Donation of time won’t put food on shelves

  • By Amy Daybert Enterprise staff
  • Tuesday, November 25, 2008 2:11pm

A record number of volunteers have helped at Food Lifeline, the state’s largest hunger relief agency, throughout November and the trend shows no signs of slowing down in December.

The only problem, according to Karen Chernotsky, the volunteer manager at Food Lifeline, is that donations of food and household goods haven’t kept pace with the number of eager volunteers.

“Volunteerism is increasing and it’s very popular, but the food is not keeping up with interested people,” Chernotsky said. “We might have to consider the real possibility of either having to slow people down or say thanks for your availability but we don’t have enough food for you to work right now.”

Often, it’s her responsibility to decide on age-appropriate activities for volunteers, she said.

The task for nearly 40 students and their parents who volunteered at Food Lifeline repackaging center in Shoreline on Saturday, Nov. 22, was sorting, boxing and labeling donations from the KOMO 4 Brenden Foster Food Drive. The food drive in Foster’s honor raised six-and-a-half truckloads of groceries and more than $60,000 to benefit Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest. It was the 11-year-old’s dying wish to help feed the hungry. Foster passed away from leukemia in Bothell on Nov. 21.

The young volunteers from the Discovery Community School in Kirkland may not have known very much about the boy who inspired many to donate food and money but they were able to take part in his wish to help the hungry by boxing up the donations.

“The school does a lot of community outreach,” said Christi Damico, a parent from Kirkland. “Part of the focus for our school is to help kids realize the larger world and help those who are less fortunate.”

A dramatic need

Despite the rise in volunteerism, food banks including Hopelink in Shoreline have noted an increasing need for donations as the number of people who rely on the services expands during a weak economic time.

Over the past year, the number of families served by Hopelink’s centers in Bellevue, Bothell, Carnation, Kirkland, Redmond and Shoreline has increased by 26 percent, according to Hopelink’s public relations specialist Denise Stephens.

In addition, requests for emergency food bags increased by 71 percent during the same period and calls requesting information on housing have increased from 30 calls per day to more than 50 per day.

“Hopelink is experiencing a dramatic increase in requests for help over the past year,” she said.

The need is expected to continue growing through the holidays and beyond.

At the Shoreline Hopelink center on Westminster Way North, 15,571 visits were recorded between July 1, 2006 and June 30, 2007. During the same period in 2008, the number of visits rose by about 10 percent to 17,168, Stephens said.

The nonprofit is currently distributing approximately 18,000 pounds of food more a month than the agency is receiving in donations. This trend doesn’t necessarily mean that donations are down, according to Stephens but rather that donations are not keeping pace with the increase in need.

A time to give

Asking for donations and money is never an easy task, according to Nataliya Semez, a development officer for the Max Foundation, an Edmonds nonprofit that helps people with blood-related cancers throughout the world.

“There are so many needs,” she said. “The best way to make a gift is to find a charity you can relate to for its mission or goals.”

For a group of friends and family members from Fremont, Lynnwood, Seattle and Shoreline, the needs they help fulfill change on a regular basis. The group began four years ago when they decided to help others in some way. Since then, the Faith and Action Team, as they call themselves, has scoured garage sales to help those less fortunate, held toy drives and most recently collected 2,482 pounds of food for Food Lifeline by posting fliers on doors in the Sand Point neighborhood in Seattle.

“It’s a group of people interested in helping people,” Warren Beach of Lynnwood said.

“We just try to keep finding things that are new and different to do. Our ideal dream is to get somebody that’s excited to do what we just did. Just think of all the neighborhoods we could canvas by getting 12 to 24 people to put something like this on and pick it up on the weekend.”

Ultimately, it’s up to the individual or group to decide how they will donate this year or any year, Semez said.

“There are so many organizations that do great jobs,” she said. “We hope people will find it in their heart to just give. It’s a great time to be thankful and to give.”

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