By Ruth Ferris
New Eatonville Family Agency administrator Lori Culver has had a first year that would have been daunting to a new administrator of any agency.
The hard-working staff – Denise Bone, Barbara Potter and Cindy Hany – joined her to meet new challenges that came from many directions. Actions in the “other Washington” were felt in Eatonville. The sequester sounded like something that the government was doing that was far from us, but anticipated cuts in funds for food stamps and for agencies providing food for the vulnerable meant that families living on the edge were going to need our food bank and our kid backpacks more than ever to fill the empty spots on their shelves.
The sequester was followed by the government shutdown. That also had an impact on the Eatonville Family Agency (EFA). Many in our region depend on jobs at McChord/Fort Lewis, and many depend on jobs at Mount Rainier National Park. For those with minimum-wage jobs there, days lost weren’t covered, and money that might have been spent on new school shoes or school supplies didn’t materialize. Again, those living close to the margins were pushed to the point where they needed to use the food bank and the clothing bank. When the shelves of the food bank were starting to look bare, EFA partnered with some of the local teachers to have their students make posters that encouraged community members to help our food bank. Lori even had the EFA board at work, assigning them to bring in 100 cans of food by finding friends who would be willing to bring in 10 or more cans. It was amazing how quickly the shelves started to fill up again.
However, such temporary measures do not provide what is really needed – a regionwide commitment to make sure that no one in our community starts the day hungry.
Who Receives the Services
Recent challenges have served to sharpen the focus of the EFA. Lori and the board took a careful look at the food bank statistics for the past year. The number of clients using this resource was 1,419. Of those, 73 percent, or 1,042, which included many children and many elderly, were at the extremely low end of the economy. 21.2 percent were in the very low end of the economy, and 5.4 percent were at the low end. In other words, EFA is helping to keep those in the most dire straits from hunger. As a result of these dramatic statistics, the staff and board have chosen to sharpen its focus for the coming year with a Hunger Hurts campaign. EFA will be asking the whole community to make a commitment that no one in our region go to bed hungry.
Raising awareness of our legislators
It is not only people in our community who need to be reminded that Hunger Hurts, but our elected officials. Lori e-mailed many supporters and friends a petition to sign requesting that our state leaders include an additional $1 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Many sent individual e-mails to our District 2 state legislators. Her recent e-mail to those who sent e-mails to our legislators let them know that their advocacy made a real difference.
Lori, joined by EFA board members Nancy Ellis and Bob Akervick, went to the state capitol as part of Hunger Action Day, and they visited the offices of Sen. Randi Becker and Reps. J.T. Wilcox and Graham Hunt to deliver the message that we need their support in fighting hunger and food insecurity. As a special bonus, Rep. Hunt took the time personally to escort them to one of the hearing rooms where the House was working on this bill at that very moment. He brought Rep. Bruce Chandler (15th District), a person key to this appropriation request, out to speak with them and to hear their request. The timing could not have been better.
Lori gave this enthusiastic report about their experience: “For me, the best moment of the day came when we were speaking to one of the lobbyists from Food Lifeline (an organization that helps gather and distribute food to food banks), and the lobbyist said she was really impressed with how many from Eatonville signed the letter of support. I was bursting with pride that our community cares about feeding our hungry neighbors and is willing to show their support publically. This letter will be routed to all members of the state Legislature, and Eatonville will stand out as a community that believes that no one should go hungry.”
Two individuals respond
Denny Collins and Jessica Moore are examples of two different ways one can contribute to reducing hunger in Eatonville.
Retiring EFA board member Collins has given many hours in his job as volunteer coordinator for EFA, and he has given many hours every week to drive the van to collect food from Safeway and Fred Meyer. He leaves an outstanding model of the positive difference a devoted van driver and volunteer coordinator can make. Denny shows the importance of volunteering to his grandsons, who have joined him to carry the EFA banner in the Eatonville Christmas parade.
Board member Jessica Moore posts weekly information on Facebook about what is happening at the agency. She will soon be inviting those who join Facebook.com/eatonvillefamilyagency to post stories and pictures of what they are doing to fight hunger.
Both Denny and Jessica remind us that one person can make a difference. Pete Seeger used the beautiful analogy of the bucket being filled by everyone putting in a teaspoon of sand. If we follow Jessica’s and Denny’s examples and add our “teaspoon of sand,” a commitment to give a little more food, a little more political advocacy, a little more money, a little more of our creative thinking, a little more time, we can give hope to the desperate and make our community a place where hunger doesn’t hurt.
Ruth Ferris is a member of Eatonville Family Agency’s board of directors.