By Deanna Dusbabek
If you’ve ever experienced the loneliness of having no one to talk to during a dark time in your life, you know how isolated you can feel—almost out of breath from being crushed by the weight of things and having no one on which to lean. But one local resource aims to make sure nobody on the island ever feels that way. Helpline House, the friend you can count on, has served the Bainbridge community since 1968. What began as Fishline, an emergency aid group comprised of local churchwomen who distributed food from the trunks of their cars, has grown into today’s multi-layered nonprofit.
Some of the more commonly known services Helpline House provides include a food bank, Project Backpack and a medical equipment lending program. But it’s also a referral hub that connects those in need to a vast spectrum of resources. Power shut off imminent? Helpline can find out if you qualify for an energy assistance program. Can’t afford summer childcare? Helpline can determine if you qualify for a BPA summercamp scholarship. Helpline House has qualified people to provide help and hope for just about any issue an islander might face.
According to Murray Prins, social work supervisor at Helpline, careful intake procedures play a key role in determining what direction assistance for a given individual should take. “We take an integrated approach,” he said. “Establishing relationships with people is key. Then we can find out how we can help them in greater depth.” As a nonprofit, Helpline House relies on committed volunteers, donations and grants for much of its dayto-day operations. The food bank, for instance, receives a great deal of its stock from Safeway, Town & Country, local gardens and churches in the community. Ongoing food drives, especially around the holidays, generate thousands of pounds of additional foodstuffs.
In addition to approximately 100 volunteers, a small group of highly trained social workers, some with therapeutic backgrounds, staff the organization. According to Helpline’s 2014 Annual Report, this core team helped nearly 1,000 Bainbridge households with food one or more times each month in 2014. In many cases, keeping the pantry stocked at home is more than just a temporary need. The food bank volunteers, who work closely with the counselors, are trained to steer clients in the direction of further governmental assistance like SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Outreach Program). This results in many people receiving benefits they might not have known about which helps sustain them long-term. For some, though, an empty fridge with no money to replenish it is just the tip of an iceberg of serious issues.
“A box of food would only last a week,” said Joan Tews, executive director of Helpline House. “We figure there’s usually more behind that need.” That single statement evokes the heart of Helpline’s mission, which is to offer “an umbrella of social services” for members of the Bainbridge community who find themselves in financial or personal crisis. The ultimate goal is to help clients find a “pathway to stability.” Domestic violence, depression, addiction, a devastating medical diagnosis or homelessness are all factors which can, and often do, serve as the underlying cause for an elderly widower or single mom to visit the food bank. Sometimes it’s a cluster of those circumstances.
Whatever the case, the staff at Helpline House knows what to look for and what questions to ask to match those in need with appropriate care. Sometimes triage is necessary, as in domestic violence situations which can be life threatening for partners and children. Helpline House offers a bridge to safety by connecting victims with local resources that can move them into safe houses and assist with navigation of the legal system. Helpline House is a comprehensive resource for Bainbridge Islanders who face tough times. But more than that, it’s a proven, reliable friend who will answer the phone when you call and invite you to come for a chat. Once inside the cozy structure that looks like a family home, you’ll be greeted with a smile, the generosity of a listening ear and a cup of coffee. And the realization that, on Bainbridge, you are not alone.