When Chuck Eberhart and his friends started a job clinic in 1969 to help his fellow out-of-work Boeing employees find jobs, who would have guessed he was setting in motion a wave of support that would be crucial to thousands of residents more than 40 years later?
That wave of support, today known throughout our region as the organization called , serves 1,000 people around the Eastside every day through its five food banks—not to mention its numerous other programs.
With the current economy and slow job market, Hopelink provides a safety net to residents who never imagined they would be in a position to need help.
“People are coming in who have never needed help before,” said Teresa Andrade, center manager of Hopelink’s Kirkland location. “We have a number of clients who used to donate and help and now they’re on the other side. We have a whole new wave of people who are kind of lost asking for help. People don’t want our services. We have people walk in all the time and ask if we have any jobs. They don’t want to have to ask for help. They want to be working.”
Andrade recalls a man in a suit who came to her office earlier this year. “I thought he was a donor,” she said. However, once they were sitting in her office, he confided that he needed food for his family but didn’t feel comfortable going to the food bank because he didn’t want volunteers whom he might know to see him.
“People want to hide it,” Andrade said. “They might be living in their house, driving their car but they’ve had a cut in resources and where they’re having to adjust their spending is on food and medical care—all the things we take for granted.”
Many Hopelink clients have a job or even two. However, according to Andrade, that’s often not enough to support a family. “When you’re involved here, you get a whole new perspective,” she said. “A lot of people say ‘just get a job—get any job.’ But if you have a family around here, who can do it on $800 or $900 a month? You just can’t do it on minimum wage…and a lot of those jobs don’t offer medical benefits, either.”
The organization, which has evolved significantly since Eberhart and his team got started, is focused on helping people achieve self-sufficiency. “We meet emergency needs when they happen,” said Hopelink spokeswoman Kris Betker. “But then we sit down to think about how we can get you back to where you want to be, how to help you get back on your path. The thing I like about Hopelink is that it’s not a temporary handout—it’s a commitment to helping.”
Hopelink’s team of case managers works with clients to determine what services they need in the short-term to take care of their family, while identifying their longer-term needs to help them get on their feet again. Services range from housing and energy assistance to literacy programs, GED training, job interview preparation, transportation services and much more.
The organization's service area spans 800 square miles in North and East King County and includes five locations, each offering a food bank for families that qualify.
In addition to food donations, Hopelink's food banks rely on the support of more than 250 volunteers who give their time to pick up and sort donations, stock shelves, clean up, check people out and more. Additional volunteers help in other areas from tutoring to organizing special events.
“I’m always so impressed with the number and caliber of volunteers,” said Andrade. “I always think ‘wow, they’re making it a part of their life.’ We couldn’t do it without them.”
US Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
The thoughtful effort started by Eberhart and his friends more than 40 years ago is a living example of the power of each of us to make a difference.
Hopelink will celebrate its 40 years with an . For more information about Hopelink services and ways you can help them support members of our community who are in need, go to www.hope-link.org.