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Bad news, good news at Bremerton-area food banks

The Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the East Coast did a number of things: killed thousands of people, destroyed billions of dollars of property, sent the economy into a tailspin, prompted people to send millions to New York, and....

Caused a lot of people to forget about local charities, such as Bremerton’s three food banks.

Now the holidays are upon us and there is good news and bad news about local charities.

“9-11 didn’t help,” said Hoyt Burrows, executive director of the Bremerton Food Line. He said it hit the economy hard — which affected people’s willingness and ability to donate. Until November, the Food Line’s donations from the public were down about 8 percent compared to last year.

Then things turned around.

“It really picked up in November. I haven’t seen the final figures yet, but it looks good,” he said.

He’s not sure why donations started picking up again. Maybe people finally remembered what time of year it was. He said donations need to be plentiful this year — what with all the additional families now in trouble because of the downsized economy.

He mentioned that stories in the newspaper, “Like the one you’re writing,” help with donations. “Donations go up as people are reminded of the need.”

Traditionally, Holidays, such as Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December, draw the most donations of cash and food. Another good time is April and May, “Just before school lets out,” he said. In the summer, the Food Line and other charities are in the doldrums. “I guess people have other things on their minds besides donations,” he said, “like going on vacation.”

The Bremerton Food Line is one of eight food banks in the greater Kitsap County area. It’s one of the three largest, as far as the number of needy served: There’s the Food Line and St. Vincent de Paul in Bremerton, and the Food Bank in Port Orchard, serving South Kitsap.

“Each of the three top food banks gave out boxes of food to about 450 families on Thanksgiving,” he said. A similar number of boxes will probably be given out at Christmas Eve. The Food Line does not cook or serve meals, it only distributes donated food or food purchased with cash donations from the community — churches, businesses, service clubs and private citizens. Banks also receive modest amounts of money from the state’s Emergency Food Assistance Program and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

Like most food banks, the Food Line works year round, since people are hungry year round.

“We average about 750 to 800 boxes of food given out monthly to needy families,” he said.

Donna Fraser, work services director and head of food distribution with the Salvation Army in Bremerton, echoed Burrows’ comments — both the bad and the good.

“Donations were down from last year... about 15 percent,” she said. “And many more people are asking for help.”

But lately, she added, things have been looking up.

“The community seems to be rallying this month,” she said. “I’m in a more positive mood about our situation.”

She said she’s excited about the fact that Kitsap Transit will be able to once again this year collect food in lieu of bus fares on its routes.

Due to projected budget shortfalls due to passage of I-695 in 1999, Kitsap Transit curtailed the food-for-fares program in the Decembers of 1999 and 2000. They still collected food, but because it was not in lieu of fares, they only collected a fraction of what was usually collected.

In 1998, when food was collected in lieu of fares, Kitsap Transit collected 20,000 cans, said Laurie Talbert, a transit spokeswoman. In 1999 and 2000, the total was only 4,000 cans.

Fraser hopes the amount of food collected will be like the old days, she said. Food collected by Kitsap Transit is shared by all the food banks.

The Salvation Army both serves hot meals and distributes boxes of food, she said. One hundred and fifty people were served hot meals on Thanksgiving and 110 families were given boxes of food. It’s estimated close to 200 will be served meals on Christmas and between 250 and 300 will receive boxes.

The salvation Army distributes 3,100 boxes of food to families per year, she said. About 30,000 meals were served last year.

• The Bremerton Food Line has a paid staff of four and perhaps twice that number of volunteers. The Food Line is headquartered at 1600 12th St. and can be reached by calling 479-6188. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., Monday through Friday.

• The Bremerton branch of the Salvation Army has a paid staff of four and many volunteers. It is located at 832 Sixth St. and can be reached by calling 373-5550. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

• St. Vincent de Paul has a paid staff of three and benefits from about 500 volunteer hours per month. It is located at 1137 Callow Ave. and can be reached by calling 479-7017. Hours of operation are 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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