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Voice for the needy: Snoqualmie Valley's One VOICE linking for help in first holiday season
Struggling families in the Upper Valley will have some choices this holiday season. They won’t be the tough ones, like paying the utility bill vs. buying new boots for the kids, either. Instead, they may have to pick between blue or black boots, or decide what kind of holiday treats their families will enjoy.
On Thursday and Friday, Dec. 15 and 16, those families will find everything necessary, not just to put on a real holiday celebration this year, but also to go on with daily life before and after the big days. It’s the One VOICE Holiday Event, a joint venture of nearly 30 Valley groups cooperating to make sure everyone’s needs are met.
Churches, schools, businesses, service groups, and charitable groups have combined their efforts for this, the second One VOICE event since the group formed earlier this year. It’s called One VOICE as a handy little acronym from Valley Organizations In Collaborative Effort, but the name is also symbolic of the communication that has begun between the various groups that form it.
It started as a question, said Stacey Cepeda, community activities manager at Encompass, a social services organization focused on children and families of all income levels (www.encompassnw.org). One of her board members asked whether anyone at Encompass was talking with anyone at other local charitable organizations like the Mount Si Food Bank, so they weren’t duplicating efforts with their various collection drives.
The answer was no, not really.
“There was a lot of talk, but nobody really talking together, and bringing it all together,” Cepeda said. “Everybody’s giving from a place in the heart… but instead of so many people focusing on one specific item, we kind of said ‘does someone really need three frozen turkeys, or can we fill that (need for) laundry soap and toilet paper?’ Everybody needs toilet paper.”
Cepeda started a conversation with Food Bank Director Heidi Dukich, about a collaboration. Dukich, who was seeing a steady increase in the number of people the North Bend-based food bank (www.mtsifoodbank.org) was serving from week to week, saw the value of it immediately.
“There’s a lot of need in the Valley,” Dukich said, “and that’s one of the benefits of having One Voice, being able to identify this population that are in need, and what their needs are.”
Need in the Upper Valley, though, is a moving target. It’s hard to define and, compared to state averages, much lower here than in other communities. One in 10 school-age children qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches in the Snoqualmie Valley School District, making the area too wealthy by government standards to offer a summer meal program for children. Just under 5 percent of school-age children live in poverty, and according to the latest Census bureau calculations, poverty affects between 5 and 10 percent of area residents. Statewide, the average is nearly 12 percent. Encompass and the food bank do not qualify clients by income, nor does the Kiwanis Club for its Giving Tree program recipients, so it’s easy to get help, for the people who seek it.
“My concern is there are so many families still in need on our Valley,” said Dukich.
“There are a lot of people that are very proud,” added Eastside Kiwanis Lt. Governor Paul Tredway. “A lot of times, they don’t ask for help.”
They may not know who to ask, either, Cepeda said.
One VOICE’s inaugural event, a summer resource fair held in June to help families connect with local services, was intended to help people find out what types of things could be available to them, and where to find them in a “one-stop shopping” approach, said Cepeda.
December’s event is similar in that all the offerings except the food bank will be under one roof, the North Bend Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 527 Northwest Mount Si Blvd, but the focus will be as much on providing for people’s immediate physical needs, as on their need to celebrate. In addition to the Kiwanis Giving Tree distribution, people will be able to “shop” for daily essentials like toilet paper, soaps, clothing (new and used), diapers, blankets, and baking supplies. Extra holiday food items will also be included in the food bank’s distribution day on Wednesday, Dec. 14. Toys and gifts gathered by the Kiwanis Giving Trees will probably be the highlight of the event. Tredway said the trees were put up last week, earlier this year, to allow people more time to take a tag, shop, and return their donations of new, unwrapped toys, to the Giving Trees. Also, he anticipates the need will be even greater this year.
“This past year, as an example, Kiwanis helped 700 kids,” he said. “We’re expecting at least that many, or more, this year.”
Families can request help from the Giving Trees by signing up at the food bank or Encompass.
Food donations can be delivered to the Mount Si Food Bank, 122 East 3rd Street, North Bend. Donations of new and gently-used blankets and clothing, unused gift cards, personal hygiene items, laundry soap, and baking supplies for holiday dessert baskets can be delivered to Encompass, 1407 Boalch Avenue Northwest, North Bend, or to Peak Sport and Spine on Snoqualmie Ridge, 7726 Center Blvd., Suite 220.
When the holidays are over, One VOICE will begin planning for another year. Since the group is so new, there is no board, and no core membership. Each participating organization maintains its own identity, but collaborates on how best to deliver its resources to the community, along with other group members.
Cepeda said Encompass’ role in One VOICE has largely been to coordinate efforts, and next year, she hopes to define each organization’s role more clearly.
“In January, we’re going to call a meeting and ask ‘What does One VOICE look like for 2012?’” she said.
Anyone interested in participating in One VOICE is welcome. Contact Cepeda at (425) 888-2777, or firstname.lastname@example.org for information.