Front lines in the war on poverty:

Organizations that make the difference for low-income families

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series on poverty in Bonner County. It was made possible in part by a grant from the Idaho Media Initiative of Boise State University. Learn more about IMI at http://sps.boisestate.edu/imi/

Just as poverty is a hidden problem in Bonner County, so too do the people and organizations that fight poverty operate behind the scenes. Those who don’t closely follow the work of local nonprofits are often surprised when they learn how many people work to make the region a better place. And families struggling from paycheck to paycheck may not know just how many resources are available to them.

“We know from experience the reason people aren’t being served is because they aren’t aware of the resources that are available,” said Becca Orchard, operations coordinator for Sandpoint Community Resource Center.

For our third poverty feature, we profiled several community organizations on the front lines of the war on poverty.

Sandpoint Community Resource Center

When you’re in the middle of a crisis, knowing where to turn is sometimes as big an issue as emergency at hand.

That’s where the Sandpoint Community Resource Center comes in. Rather then providing services itself, operations coordinator Becca Orchard said the organization serves as an intermediary between people in need and the organizations or government services that can help them out.

“We consider ourselves a bridge between people who need and people who serve,” said Orchard.

Clients call in seeking direction on everything from housing assistance to home repairs to medical issues. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Good thing the center has put together an up-to-date directory, which allows people in need to find their own solutions.

The resource center is run entirely by volunteers, so its costs are relatively small. Private donations and grants cover the majority of its expenses. Orchard said the organization’s biggest need is probably manpower, and volunteers are always needed. To lend assistance or seek the center’s help, visit www.sandpointcommunityresource.com or call 920-1840.

Bonner Homeless Transitions

It’s been a big year for Bonner Homeless Transitions. Previously known as Transitions In Progress Services, the organization is bearing a new name, but its commitment to families facing the threat of homelessness is the same as ever.

“‘Transitions in Progress’ didn’t click with everyone right away, whereas ‘Bonner Homeless Transitions’ says it all,” said associate Ann Gehring.

For many county residents, eviction is an ever-present threat. Families or single women who find themselves homeless can look to Bonner Homeless Transitions and their transitional houses. The organization doesn’t stop at shelter, either. Members will assist with legal case management, job searches, service coordination, domestic violence and court advocacy, food, clothing, transportation and minor medical or household items as needed.

“Our goal is to alleviate crisis and help our clients move on to long term sustainable permanent housing,” said program manager Tamie Martinsen.

The idea isn’t for people to rely on Bonner Homeless Transitions every time they need. Rather the organization seeks to get clients out of a bad situation and put them back on the path to self-sustainability.

“I feel that in a vibrant community everyone has their needs met and no one should have to suffer homelessness, especially children,” Martinsen said. “Not everyone has family or friends that can support them through difficult times.”

Some of Bonner Homeless Transitions’ budget comes from donations and fundraisers. A great opportunity to support the organization is through its Christmas Tree Raffle, which runs until Dec. 5. The raffle winner will receive a beautiful, hand-painted Christmas tree right in time for the holidays. Get your tickets at Kokanee Coffee, Di Luna’s, Eichardts, Eve’s Leaves or online at www.bonnerhomelesstransitions.org.

Sandpoint Area Seniors, Inc.

Since seniors living on fixed incomes are among the area’s most financially vulnerable, it’s a good thing the community has Sanpoint Area Seniors, Inc. Best known for operating the Sandpoint Senior Center, the organization also maintains an extensive roster of programs caring for the elderly.

Some of [our seniors] don’t have family to help them through these later years,” said SASI director Ellen Weissman. “Some of them tend to isolate; we hope to provide them with activities they can feel a part of.”

Between community meals, special events and classes, the center is an essential staple for both services and community fostering. Just as valuable is the organization’s home-delivered meal program, which provides more than 2,000 meals a month for residents unable to leave their homes. Finally, the DayBreak Center provides respite care for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia, allowing their caregivers time to do other tasks or just unwind.

“I find the senior population needs special attention to the issues they face every day as they become unable to handle their daily lives,” Weissman said. “It’s rewarding to know I am helping put a smile on their face or help them solve a problem they might have.”

While SASI receives government funding to keep the programs running, it runs a monthly $5,000 budget gap covered by donations, grants and other sources. To help out, call 265-8486.

Bonner Community Food Center

Probably the largest and best-known service provider for food assistance, Bonner Community Food Center has grown considerably in recent years. In 2011, the organization moved from its relatively small facility to a large building at 1707 Culvers Drive, enabling members to better serve their 4,200 monthly clients.

A local resident fills her cart at the Bonner County Food Bank. Photo by Ben Olson.

A local resident fills her cart at the Bonner County Food Bank. Photo by Ben Olson.

The food bank is organized much like a grocery store, with clients able to browse and select items in a large market area. In addition to food assistance, the food bank manages the Backpack Program, which packs weekend meals for students with nothing to eat when not in school. Coats For Kids is another essential program for qualifying clients.

Volunteers and financial or food donations go a long way at the food bank. Give the organization a call at 263-3663 to learn how you can help.

Community Action Partnership

Most of us northerners probably prefer to have four seasons, but the shifting weather brings its share of downsides, too. Not least among them are the rising utility costs that come with the winter season. Community Action Partnership helps low-income families make up the difference. They have programs  assisting in home weatherization, affordable home heating, food and nutrition services and more.

In the past, community engagement liaison Shirley Paulison has also organized classes and workshops helping people break the cycle of generational poverty. Other workshops put community leaders in a poverty simulation, forcing them to make the tough financial decisions low-income families deal with every day.

Check in with CAP representatives by calling 255-2910.

Faith Based Organizations

The Bonner County faith community takes on several assistance projects spread across dozens of church ministries. A recent and stunningly successful example is the Convoy of Hope, which brought together 1,000 volunteers across local churches and nonprofits to serve nearly 2,000 visitors. Even after food giveaways to families were complete, there was still nearly two tons leftover to spread across local food banks.

Food For Our Children

It’s hard to believe that child hunger is a serious problem in America, but for many Bonner County kids, it’s a daily reality. Local organization Food For Our Children estimates more than 2,000 children across the county do not receive adequate nutrition. Nonprofit members are teaming up with the food bank to curb a problem that can have far-reaching consequences.

“Because these children are hungry and not receiving adequate nutrition, they are at significant risk of not acquiring an education,” said board member Michele Murphree.

The organization relies on community donations, which go directly toward keeping regional children fed. To learn how you can help, email [email protected] or call 391-5277.

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