Despite boom, many still bust on Eastsideon July 25, 2013 @ 7:35 am
"The general feeling is the recession is over and it's back to normal," says Marilyn Mason Plunkett, CEO of Redmond-based Hopelink. "But during the recession, a lot of the people that we serve who are very low income fell far, and it will take them a long time to get back up."
Hopelink is the largest social service agency in East and North King County, focusing on both short and long-term poverty reduction.
"We meet emergency needs for food and shelter and energy assistance for low income people, but we also help people build skills and tools that will help them exit poverty permanently," Plunkett says.
Hopelink's clients come from all walks of life. While many struggle because of a lack of education, illness, or other challenges, Plunkett says the recession has sent a number of people their way who never needed help before.
"I had one woman who came through the food bank and started to cry. She said, 'Last year I was a donor. I can't believe I'm here.' When you can't feed your children, that really is the bottom rung of the ladder for most people."
It's had a significant ripple effect. A lot of people who were downsized from managerial and similar jobs were forced to take lower level or entry level positions just to have a job, which left even fewer jobs for the people who traditionally hold those positions.
Many others lost their jobs altogether. Plunkett recounts the story of a formerly successful manager with an Eastside food services company who got laid off, exhausted his unemployment benefits, drained his 401k, lost his house, and ended up living in his car.
"He came to Hopelink, had lost all confidence in himself, had really fallen far. He worked with one of our case managers and we were able to help him with a number of things. We were able to help him with food. We were able to help him get that leg up that he needed to get back on his feet."
But helping people is getting a lot harder. Hopelink relies on grants and donations to provide approximately 35 different services, from food banks and emergency financial assistance to adult literacy, computer, and financial education. As the demand for services has grown, funding continues shrinking.
"We've grown accustomed to doing more with less. But now, we are being forced to do less with the less," she says.
Plunkett says many people don't realize how pervasive poverty is on the Eastside. Unlike Seattle, it's much more hidden.
The most recent one-night count found a dramatic increase in homeless populations in the area. Nineteen percent of families in the Bellevue School District alone qualify for free and reduced breakfast and lunch, Plunkett says. In the summertime, they increasingly turn to Hopelink for help.
But Hopelink can't do it alone. The agency needs all the help it can get. Whether it's making a donation or volunteering, anyone in the community can make a big difference in the lives of their neighbors, Plunkett says. After all, with so many doing so well these days, there's no reason more people can't be lifted out of poverty.
KIRO Radio 97.3 FM, 710 ESPN Seattle, 770 KTTH, The Seattle Seahawks, Les Schwab Tire Centers and Carter Subaru are proud to honor Hopelink as the charity of the month.
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