Holiday Giving / Hopelink is looking for folks to help during the holidays

Has the current economic situation had an effect on the demand for social services, particularly help from food banks, operated by nonprofit groups such as Hopelink?

Most likely to no one’s surprise, the answer is, “Yes.”

Hopelink spokesperson Denise Stephens said that over the summer the number of persons using Hopelink’s food banks was up 50 percent over the same time last year.

“It’s scary,” Stephens said, adding that as winter bears down, the demand is only going to grow. Heating homes costs money. Warm clothes are expensive. For those just making it by, those added expenses can wreak havoc on budgets. Of course, at the same time, most families, especially those with children, want to celebrate the coming holidays with a festive meal and a few gifts.

Overall, according to information provided by Stephens, Hopelink offers more than 20 programs and services to 50,000 low-income people annually in north and east King County.

In 2008, Hopelink provided holiday gifts to well over 1,000 low-income families with children, and put food on the table for many more thousands of hungry people, including children, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Stephens added that during the holidays, Hopelink clients are grateful for the festive food and gifts that help them enjoy, rather than dread, the season.

For this year, Hopelink’s wish list for donated nonperishable food includes the same staples that are needed year-round: canned fish, canned meals (chili, stew), rice, pasta, canned fruit, peanut butter, cereal, baby food, tomato products, 100 percent juice, cooking oil, potatoes and onions.

All of Hopelink’s food banks also welcome donations of holiday foods such as baking mixes, flour, sugar, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, yams and stuffing.

Each of Hopelink’s five centers also are in need of particular items based on the demographics of the individual centers’ clients.

Since August, Bothell, Kenmore, Woodinville and Kirkland have been served by a new consolidated center at 11011 120th Ave. N.E., Kirkland.

For Bothell and Kenmore clients, the center has replaced what officials called the aging and outdated Bothell Hopelink.

The special needs of the Kirkland/Northshore Center include canned peaches, canned pineapple, canned fruit cocktail and applesauce. Holiday donations will be accepted though Dec. 19. On-site donation hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

Stephens wanted to make special note of the need for food bank volunteers at the Kirkland/Northshore center. That center uses an innovative grocery store approach to handing out food. Instead of clients coming in and being handed a bag of groceries, they have the chance to walk aisles of food and pick the items they most need, just like at a grocery store. Stephens and others have said the main idea is to give clients more choice. But both the new center and the approach has meant some challenges for Hopelink.

“It’s a bigger center, it’s more complicated with the grocery store approach,” Stephens said.

Optimally, center officials would like to see up to five volunteers on the floor, helping clients and restocking shelves, for every hour the food bank is open.

Currently, Stephens said the actual number of volunteers varies greatly, anywhere from the needed five to as few as two.

For the holidays, Kirkland/Northshore food-bank clients will receive additional items such as milk and eggs. Stephens said the organization has a limited number of turkeys that will be given out randomly.

In addition to their normal offerings, the Kirkland/Northshore center and other Hopelinks are sponsoring holiday “gift rooms” for pre-registered clients who are parents or grandparents. Those clients can “shop” at their neighborhood Hopelink center, selecting just the right gift for their youngsters.

For the gift shops, Hopelink is looking for donations of toys, books, games and other gifts for children of all ages; gift cards for bookstores and toy stores; and, items specifically for teens, such as music players, jewelry and sports equipment. New clothing for children ages newborn to 18 is also welcome, but particularly so for high-school-age children. Hopelink lists gift cards to stores such as Old Navy, Target, Fred Meyer and the Gap as great ways to donate clothing for older children.

For the gift shops, include only new, unwrapped items in your donation. Cash donations will be used to purchase additional items for categories not already filled by “in-kind” donations. Additionally, Hopelink is able to use cash donations to buy certain food items in bulk, thereby stretching those dollars to feed more families.

Lastly, in a press release, Stephens stated that Hopelink wants to use social media to reach out to the community with a new program called “Twelve Days of Giving.”

Hopelink is asking all of its Facebook, Twitter and E-News followers to send an e-mail to their friends, family and contacts to ask for a small donation of $12 to support Hopelink and the “Twelve Days of Giving” campaign, Dec. 1-12. If just 12 Hopelink supporters reach out to 12 others to make a $12 donation, Hopelink programs will be $1,728 stronger. Repeated daily over the 12 days of the campaign, Hopelink could realize donations of more than $20,000.

For more information on any of Hopelink’s holiday programs, visit and click on the “Holidays at Hopelink” button. To reach the Kirkland/Northshore center, go through Hopelink’s main Web site or call (425) 889-7880. Potential volunteers must go through an orientation and are asked to sign up for that orientation in advance. The next classes are set for December. Visit

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