Lindbergh High School was closed Monday, Jan. 20 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But people were lined up outside the building as early as 6 a.m. By noon the parking lot was still packed.
Inside, a Renton resident named Robert (last name withheld) was waiting in the auditorium. He’s not a high school student, but someone looking for housing assistance. He heard about this event from a neighbor and decided to bring his friend along to also get assistance.
“Anything you really need, they are offering, from hygiene to clothing to housing to utilities, even down to a free lunch” Robert said. “I think it is a great program, especially for locals in the Renton area.”
United Way held its Family Resource Exchange event at Lindbergh on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a one-stop-shop for families in need.
This was the 10th event of its kind in King County, Lauren McGowan, United Way director of ending homelessness and poverty, said. About 375 families totaling 1,115 people were assisted by over 200 volunteers and 37 providers. The event was promoted through libraries, schools, 211 and other housing assistance programs to reach people experiencing housing instability and homelessness.
“As we reflect on the ideals of equality and justice that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. espoused, we must remember the hard work that lies ahead. The homelessness crisis in our region—with nearly 11,200 people staying in shelters and others living in tents and cars — demonstrates the racial disparities that exist in our community,” the United Way event press release states.
The event honors Martin Luther King Jr. while also acknowledging the need to connect people to resources amidst a growing crisis of people struggling with homelessness in the county. South King County has a real need that often gets overlooked, McGowan said. By having an event like this, on a day most people aren’t working, it creates a safe space. It’s also at a school, so it’s trusted and families feel comfortable.
Doug Baldwin volunteered at the event, helping to serve the Mexican food buffet lunch. Robert isn’t one to get star-struck, but he said it was nice to see a local celebrity out here helping, and wished more had done the same. Mayor Armondo Pavone also kicked off the event by speaking to volunteers that morning.
“Martin Luther King Jr. talked about a society of equity, opportunity and love,” Pavone said to volunteers. ” And I can’t think of a better way to think his memory than to be a part of this event here today.”
Outside the event, three women sat down their overstuffed reusable bags as they wait for a rideshare back to Seattle. That morning, they endured three hours of busing to get to this event, spending about an hour at Lindbergh.
”We got everything we needed,” one of the women, who lives at Seattle’s Mercy Magnuson Place and asked not to be named, said. “It was helpful and actually a really good (resource).”
The housing assistance was something many attendees found useful. McGowan said the auditorium was the first place people went, and stayed full as folks waited to be called up to the stage to sit at one of the tables with a housing expert. Folks were screened and assisted with housing, rent, debt repayment and other types of help.
While parents talked to housing providers or looked at other family resources, the school library was devoted to a day care. Kids played with animal balloons, face paint and had access to games and YouTube on computers while supervised by volunteers.
By noon, almost all the shoes were gone, as well as other supplies. McGowan said the event serves as a day that attendees get to hear “yes” to their needs and services, and the volunteers were meant to help however they could.
Family Alexander, Nicole and their child, who are residents of Mary’s Place, thought the MLK Day event was the most helpful Family Resource Exchange so far. They stayed for a couple hours.
“Every single one of the volunteers, everyone who saw us wearing name-tags were more than willing to approach us and ask if we needed help finding anything,”Alexander said. “That never happened at other events we went to— they would push you through the line and tried to get you out. The fact they actually helped was a big deal.”
As they waited for their ride back to the shelter, Alexander wore a new pair of blue athletic shoes. He works in a kitchen and has worn the same pair of faded, black non-slip chef shoes the last two years. This was the first time an event offering shoes had his size.
The family was also able to get a water proof toiletries bag for each of them with a lot of hygienic supplies; deodorant, toothbrushes, heat-pads which can help them keep their stuff separated when they use the shared shelter shower. Almost all the other families they are friends with at Mary’s Place also showed up the event, he said. He said the organization was really good at getting the word out.
The next Family Resource Exchange event is scheduled for April 1 in Seattle. For information on volunteering, visit uwkc.org.