Opinion

Sobering number of those in need to only get worse | LYNN BOHART

Remember the commercial with Sam Elliott, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner?”

For many people in our community, dinner may not have anything to do with beef, or protein, or anything healthy. They may not even have dinner.

Washington state is the 16th hungriest state in this country. According to the Food Lifeline website, 47 percent of the people utilizing their services in 2010 had to choose between paying for food, or paying for heat and utilities. Their “Missing Meals” report shows an additional 163 million meals are needed each year in Western Washington alone to give all low-income people three nutritious meals a day. And we already know that 1 in 4 children go to bed hungry in our state.

If you think these are sobering numbers – be prepared. It’s getting worse. According to our local Salvation Army and St. Vincent de Paul, the number of people seeking services here in Renton is increasing exponentially.

“Two weeks ago, we had 167 people come through our doors in one day,” says Captain Chris Aird, Salvation Army Renton Rotary Food Bank. “That shattered prior records. Today, we saw 174.”

So, why is this happening if the economy is getting better?

“We’ve lost thousands of jobs over the last five years,” says Lani Cavit, St. Vincent de Paul/Renton. “And some companies are cutting hours because of the Affordable Care Act.”

Add to that the fact that many middle class families have used up all of their resources. They’ve depleted their savings, borrowed from families and friends, sold their second car, and are now forced to do something they’ve never had to do before – ask for help.

“The food bank had 170 new families in the month of January,” says Captain Aird. “And over 1,200 in the last five months.”

If you’re concerned by these numbers and think something should be done, you’d be right. But what can one person do to meet this growing need?

One – consider volunteering for one of the outstanding nonprofits in our community. If you don’t know what you could do to help, call and ask. But here are some suggestions. You could volunteer in the food bank or deliver emergency food bags for St. Vincent de Paul. If you have a specific skill – accounting, graphic design, fundraising, writing, organizing – you could help design websites, write newsletters, do the bookkeeping, sit on a board, help stage a fundraising event, distribute informational materials, or staff an information booth.

Two – donate food. Both food banks will take non-perishable food items in any quantity. They also need plastic and paper bags (with handles) for folks to carry their food home. Other organizations could also use your donations. The family liaisons with Communities In Schools of Renton have small cupboards where they keep snacks for hungry children. And then there is Renton Area Youth & Family Services.

“Three years ago,” says Rich Brooks (RAYS), “we weren’t feeding kids. Now our staff keeps breakfast bars in their drawers for kids who haven’t eaten all day.”

Three – donate cash. I work with most of the nonprofits in the Renton area, and I can verify that these organizations run lean and mean. They can make a $10 gift go a long way. So consider giving them your financial support.

Lastly, when you get home tonight and ask “what’s for dinner?” - stop and consider the statistics. Then consider the person who has nothing, and go back to No. 1.

For contact information on local nonprofits who could use your help in meeting basic needs in our area, visit the foundation website at www.rentonfoundation.org>Community>Local Services.

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