Upper Valley MEND and Community Cupboard help the unemployed and working poor
Thursday, November 29, 2012
LEAVENWORTH — A lot of new faces have been showing up at the Community Cupboard the past few years.
Long-term unemployed and minimum wage earners or part-time workers who struggle to pay their bills have added to the steady stream of elderly, handicapped and single parent families who regularly require help at Leavenworth’s Community Cupboard food bank and thrift store. The Community Cupboard and its parent agency Upper Valley MEND is one of four regional non-profit groups picked for this year’s Neighbors Care Fund.
“More and more people are coming in who aren’t used to needing help,” said Bob Mark, Community Cupboard manager. “They’re people who have lost their jobs and can’t find one. They haven’t been in this position before.”
The Community Cupboard helped 767 families last year, up from 520 families in 2009. Nearly 100,000 pounds of food was distributed. This year, the numbers will be even higher, Mark said. More than 200 boxes of food are given out each month on average this year, up from about 160 a month three years ago.
More than 240 families signed up to receive Thanksgiving boxes of food this year. The food bank expects a similar number to line up at the 14th Street food bank and thrift store just before Christmas for boxes that will include food and toys.
Mark said the cupboard spent about $8,000 last year just on holiday boxes, mostly for turkeys and hams. Local stores and community members are very generous in their donations, he said. Donations of food items are always welcome, as are donations of quality clothing, books and household items that can be sold in the Community Cupboard Thrift Store. Proceeds from the thrift store help fund food purchases for the food bank.
Food items come in every day from the local Safeway and other shops. Food is also delivered by organizations like Second Harvest, Northwest Harvest and the Community Action Council, which distributes government surplus food.
But it’s not enough.
More food must be purchased each month. Between one-third and one-half of what the food bank distributes each month is purchased, Mark said. And food costs continue to go up.
“Putting orders together with higher costs for food is a challenge,” he said. Requests for emergency assistance to help families pay rent, utilities, fuel and emergency lodging have also gone up in recent years. Financial donations from the small Leavenworth community don’t provide all that’s needed to cover those costs, he said.
While Leavenworth’s success as a tourist town has created much prosperity, its popularity has forced land prices up and made housing unaffordable for low income families. Most of the people who work in Leavenworth’s many hotels, restaurants and shops live where costs are lower or wrestle with poverty, Mark said.
The Community Cupboard is operated by Upper Valley MEND. Since 1983, MEND — an acronym for Meeting Each Need with Dignity — has provided help for low income families in a growing number of ways. It’s funded by grants and local support.
In 1995, the organization’s board made a commitment to find ways to expand affordable housing in the area. It started the SHARE community land trust to develop housing on 15 acres purchased a few years later. Two neighborhoods — Alpine Heights and Aldea Village with 10 houses each — have since been developed, making it possible for low and moderate-income families to own their homes. MEND has another, larger, development in the works.
The Upper Valley Free Clinic was started in 2009. Local doctors and other medical professionals offer free medical care and referral services to Upper Valley residents in need one evening a week.
Cornerstone Community Adult Family Care opened in 2011, providing a supervised home for six adults with disabilities. Jubilee Global Gifts, a Leavenworth fair trade gift store that sells hand-crafted items from developing nations, also came under MEND’s ownership. Proceeds from the store help reduce poverty globally and locally.
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151
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