Care to share your fortuity with others?

Question: Does Bainbridge Island, where the average household’s income is somewhere around $95,000, take care of its less fortunate? Generally, the island’s social-service professionals and volunteers answer yes. But it’s not an unqualified yes. Donations and volunteers have been reasonably consistent in recent years, they say, but the current economic downturn will test islanders’ benevolence as more people slide toward the poverty line and operational costs increase for service organizations such as Helpline House and Interfatih Volunteer Caregivers.

  • Thursday, July 24, 2008 7:26pm
  • Opinion

Question: Does Bainbridge Island, where the average household’s income is somewhere around $95,000, take care of its less fortunate? Generally, the island’s social-service professionals and volunteers answer yes. But it’s not an unqualified yes. Donations and volunteers have been reasonably consistent in recent years, they say, but the current economic downturn will test islanders’ benevolence as more people slide toward the poverty line and operational costs increase for service organizations such as Helpline House and Interfatih Volunteer Caregivers.

The island is special because it has thousands of caring people. But can they offer more, whether it’s time or money or both?

Joanne Tews, executive director at Helpline, believes many islanders eagerly step forward when there is a compelling argument of need and mission presented by the community. Generally, people understand the importance of giving. Still, you have to worry when a dedicated servant like Tews uses phrases such as, “I think I feel confident… the huge rise in need is an area of concern…we are operating on a shoestring… I keep my fingers crossed… too many people don’t know about the community they live in…”

So what is happening here? While Helpline continues to seek additional donors and One Call For All dutifully distributes its “red envelopes” each fall, the number of families needing food bank assistance jumped from 250 to 275 in April and continues to increase. “We have people, many of them families, needing basic things such as food and medication,” Tews says. “People used to come in once or twice a month, but now its three or four times. We need more cash donations in order to make up for the slow (summer) months. We’re trying to help right now with their heating bills because May and June were so cold.” Yes, it’s endless.

Helpline is a large operation, with an annual budget of more than $800,000. It’s often the No. 1 recipient of philanthropic organizations such as Rotary and One Call For All, which last year gave Helpline about $100,000 of the $850,000 it collected from community members during the last three months of the year. Still, the growing number of requests for help forces the nonprofit agency to be constantly looking for more donors. There are never enough because the demand continues to escalate. Many people give regularly because they understand the value of their assistance, but others might write a check once a year and then forget about neighbors who may need help.

Tews says people tend to respond after they see what Helpline does on a daily basis, whether they serve as volunteers or just take a tour of the facility. She considers such contact critical to spur people to give back to the community they have embraced.

Unfortunately, she and others believe too many people are oblivious to the many islanders who are struggling, whether they consciously choose not to be involved or are commuters who are too busy to be involved in the community. That’s their prerogative, of course, but people in the care-giving community think that making others mindful of the need is still a key part of their job.

“It is what it is,” Tews says of the community. “There are some very passionate and thoughtful people who are unaware of what’s going on here…people who we’d like to have step forward and ask, ‘What can I give?’ It’s hard to fault them when they don’t, but it does take another slice of your energy away.”

Still, as any caregiver will tell you, the reward of giving to others is worth the sacrifice and long hours they spend at their jobs. They understand the significance of lifting a person’s spirit simply by caring. Come join us, they say, because we all have much to offer.

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