South Kitsap Helpline, contributions reign

After a rocky 2011, the nonprofit South Kitsap Helpline Food Bank and Port Orchard Nursery are looking up.

Jennifer Hardison, Helpline’s Executive Director, said both food donations and monetary contributions are up year-to-date from 2011. The nursery, used to sell plant shoots and grow fresh greens for food baskets, has also had a stronger year, she said.

“This year has been good so far,” Hardison said. “I think we are going in to the summer a little more prepared.”

Hardison said 2011 was a rough year for the community-supported South Kitsap Helpline. Two part-time paid staff positions were eliminated, and hours were reduced for the seven remaining staff, including the director. Helpline was struggling to pay its bills, including the $5,000 monthly mortgage payment on the Port Orchard Nursery, acquired in 2010 with a special grant from the Birkenfeld Trust.

Hardison said the bills on the nursery were higher than expected last year, and cash and food donations were down in 2011.

“We had a really hard year last year,” she said. “Donations were not where they needed to be.”

Hardison said 2012 has put the nonprofit back on track. Helpline received more than 27,000 pounds of food for the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association Stamp Out Hunger food drive on the week before Mother’s Day.

Helpline has also set up some offsite locations to sell plant shoots and fresh greens. New this year, the Port Orchard Nursery operates a booth at Bremerton Farmer’s Market, which helps pay the bills. The organization also sets up a small booth outside of Custom Picture Framing on Bay Street every weekend.

“We’ve sent a lot of people from down there up here,” she said.

The Port Orchard Farmer’s Market members voted not to allow Helpine to operate a booth locally.Helpline has also received a steadier amount of large cash donations this year, Hardison said. The Manchester Pub recently presented Helpline with a check for $1,100. The money was raised at the Manchester Flower and Garden Show during Mother’s Day Weekend.Duck Gallagher, the coordinator of the Mother’s Day event, said the money raised is typically donated to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. But because of the down economy, Gallagher said donating to Helpline seemed like the more appropriate thing to do.“Since the way the economy is and more people are using Helpline, we decided to support them,” Gallagher said.

Helpline will host a pancake breakfast at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday during the Kitsap Harbor Festival.While this year’s numbers are looking better than last year, Hardison said a drop in donations usually comes in the summer months. She said often times people don’t think to donate food during the sunny weather.“Donations typically slow down in the summer,” Hardison said. “People don’t always remember there are hungry people year round.”


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