Harold Erland, who helps match underprivileged Valley residents with resources through his volunteer work at the North Bend Community Church, is the Valley Record’s latest Citizen of the Week.
“He goes out of his way to help people in need, oftentimes searching out services for them or helping them himself,” said Deb Peterman, who nominated Erland for the honor on behalf of the local Kiwanis.
Along with distributing bus passes and gas vouchers, and directing people to low-cost health and dental insurance and other government services, Erland also lends a sympathetic ear.
“People in crisis can’t see past their nose, and sometimes they just need a little guidance, a little pep talk,” said Erland. Every Wednesday, he’s at the church’s office, ready to give strangers “a little confidence, maybe a little focus.”
Difficult economic conditions have increased requests to the church for rent assistance by seventy percent over the last three months, Erland said.
“People are living from day to day, and the gas price goes up enough, and they can’t afford gas. So something else has to give. They don’t have enough to pay their rent; they don’t have enough to buy food,” Erland said.
Sometimes Erland’s position requires him to make tough calls to determine how to dole out limited resources. Because there is no manual to guide his choices, he uses his instincts to distinguish between people sincerely in need and those trying to abuse charity.
“I was a claims manager at Puget Sound Energy for a long time,” said Erland, who retired two years ago. “There’s no story I haven’t heard. People have tried to tell me hundreds of lies, and you can pick up on it.”
In addition to his work with the church, which he has attended all his life, Erland also works to promote conservation of water, fish and wildlife. He’s currently focused on increasing the number of crabs in Puget Sound.
“I went down last season, and we had a hard time finding a legal crab,” he said.
To change this, Erland argues his case regularly to policy-makers.
“The goal is to be able to change legislation and policy. The government knows who I am because I write to them a lot. I put in my two cents’ worth. By doing that, then they listen,” Erland said.
• Do you know Valley residents who deserve recognition? Nominate them for Citizen of the Week, an award co-sponsored by the Valley Record and Replicator Graphics. Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.