Guest Column: Lend a hand close to home

By David L. Foote

This past week’s weather event brings home the meaning of our United Way tagline “Lend a hand close to home.” After a couple of years of disasters around the world, at United Way we have talked a lot about the importance of personal giving and remind ourselves that a disaster can strike anytime, anyplace to anyone. Last week it happened right here in Kitsap.

Fortunately for me and my family, the worst thing that happened was the meandering creek that runs along the edge of our property no longer meanders. The flood of water that came through our normally bubbling little stream washed away the gentle curves, leaving it almost as straight as a road built across the flat parts of Eastern Washington. The good news, I now have a little less grass to mow this summer. We wish everyone had fared as well.

While the rain has stopped and the rivers and streams are back in their banks, this week’s storm has put a strain on an already taxed system.

The United Way campaign this year has been better than the past couple; however, the increase requested by supported agencies this year will see the greatest increase over the previous year that I have seen in my five years as executive director. We are looking at a 24.3 percent increase in funding requests; however, these requests came in prior to the storm. As a result of the storm, I suspect that some agencies may have even greater needs. For certain, the Red Cross will be stretched to its limits as well as agencies like the Salvation Army, Kitsap Community Resources and all of the area food banks. Peninsula Community Health Services clinic in Poulsbo suffered extensive damage from the sewer backing up into its basement, and the road to Holly Ridge washed out forcing them to relocate their services.

While the campaign this year has seen an increase in giving in most areas of the county, I ask that if you have not yet contributed to the United Way Annual Fundraising Campaign, that you look into your heart and write that check or make that payroll pledge in support of United Way of Kitsap County.

We are working hard to bring the whole community together. The 36 partner agencies we help support are the cornerstone of the health and human service safety net. The agencies are there in a time of need for many Kitsap residents and this week, many more of our friends and neighbors were reliant on their services. The United Way 2-1-1 Information and Referral telephone line received nearly twice the calls during and after the storm than it would receive on an average day.

Late last year, we completed a community assessment to help us determine the critical needs in our community. If you would like to review the community assessment, visit the United Way Web site at www.unitedwaykitsap.org and click “Your United Way.”

From the assessment information, we have prioritized common goals and are collaborating and partnering with organizations and individuals to create long-term lasting change in community conditions. But as we have all seen this past week, a change in the weather can greatly impact our work and the lives of thousands. None of us can plan for that.

We need your help to move these common goals forward, especially now. Some of the reasons to invest in our community through United Way are:

• One-third of Kitsap County residents earn less than $1,200 per month.

• One in three Kitsap County residents utilize a United Way funded service or program.

• Home prices in Kitsap County jumped 23 percent last year and many are now in danger of losing their homes due to the mortgage crisis.

• 51 percent of children younger than 5 years of age live in a low-income household.

• 30 percent of students in Kitsap schools are eligible for free or reduced cost lunches.

• 5,600 senior and disabled adults need assistance and help to maintain their independence.

Local area food banks gave away 4.1 million pounds of food last year and could have given away more, if they would have had it.

And now, with the nasty blow the weather just handed us, more people are going to need the services of United Way partner agencies. So please, help us help our friends and neighbors. Lend a hand close to home. Make a tax- deductible pledge to United Way of Kitsap County by sending in a check to 647 4th Street, Bremerton, WA 98337. Or, you can call (360) 377-8505 for further information or view this year’s video on our Web page by clicking the 2007-08 United Way Video in the gold box on the right side of the home page. Thank you for your support.

David L. Foote is the executive director of United Way of Kitsap County.

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