Making an Impact with Food

“It is hard to concentrate on anything else when you are hungry. Once citizens of Whatcom County aren’t as worried about where they will find their next meal, we can link them to other resources” says Anjali Englund, Outreach and Development Coordinator for the Opportunity Council.
With food on so many people’s minds during the Holiday Season, you will be glad to know that United Way supports a variety of food-based programs. Thanks to generous contributions to the Community Impact Fund, United Way of Whatcom County’s partner agencies, like the Opportunity Council, are helping feed a diversity of hungry people. The effort put forth to give our residents one of the most basic human needs is invaluable to all of Whatcom County.
In this past year, 30% of citizens who make less than $20,000 per year went hungry because they could not afford enough food to fill their needs. United Way of Whatcom County is putting donor dollars to work to decrease that percentage. With a large variety of programs that provide food and meals, our partner agencies help to make an impact all over Whatcom County. Some of our funded agencies that help to reduce hunger are the Bellingham Food Bank (and food banks all around the county), Opportunity Council, Salvation Army, and Compass Health. Through United Way funding these organizations are able to continue serving our citizens and promoting healthy lifestyles in Whatcom County. 
The Bellingham Food Bank supplies groceries to residents in Bellingham as well distributes food to county food banks in Ferndale, Blaine, Lynden, Deming, and Nooksack. Families can visit county food banks once a week for as long as they need assistance. In 2015, the Bellingham Food Bank had 147,000 client visits and gave away over 3.5 million pounds of food. Since the Bellingham Food Bank does not turn away any Bellingham citizen, it affects many more homes in Bellingham than one would think. Approximately 5% of all families in the Bellingham city limits utilize the Food Bank at least once a year. 
 United Way funding also helps in educating Whatcom County citizens in how to make their own healthy meals.
“Our weekend program has started a monthly cooking class focused on preparing simple, but healthy foods,” says representatives from Max Higbee Center.
The Max Higbee Center provides community-based recreation programs for youth and adults with developmental disabilities. By learning to prepare healthy meals the participants are achieving greater independence in their own lives and the Max Higbee Center is leading more citizens of Whatcom County a healthy lifestyle. 
Another one of our partner agencies that is helping adults increase their ability to be independent is Compass Health. This agency runs the Rainbow Recovery Center, where adults with mental illness can come for services and support. The Rainbow Center provides a kitchen and necessary kitchen utensils and allows peers to work together to prepare, eat, and then clean up their breakfast and lunch. Dining together helps create healthy social bonds and taking on chores builds responsibility. About 60% of the adults they serve are homeless. This gives homeless citizens a place to go, a place to cook and eat, and a chance for a better life. 
There are so many agencies that provide a place to go for a meal, but not many try as hard as Maple Alley Inn to achieve restaurant-style dining. Picture sitting at a table with fresh flowers and a beautiful tablecloth, while enjoying a protein-rich main course, green salad, two vegetable and/or fruit sides, bread, juice and cake for dessert. What a meal! United Way of Whatcom County invests donor dollars in the Opportunity Council’s Maple Alley Inn Program, which assures any Whatcom County resident a spot at a table just like the one described above. There are no restrictions to the individuals coming in to have a meal and the program served 4,630 hungry Whatcom County residents in 2015. The hope of the volunteers is that while people are enjoying a healthy meal they will be interested in learning how to be connected to other resources they need. Maple Alley Inn volunteers take the leftovers to citizens of Whatcom County that are unable to make the trip themselves, ensuring that no food ever goes to waste. 
United Way also funds the Senior Nutrition Program through the Whatcom Council on Aging, the Boys and Girls Club's Healthy Lifestyles program, and the Girls on the Run program through the Whatcom Family YMCA. These programs have provided meals and nutrition education to more than 4,000 children and seniors living in our community.
Though over the past five years Whatcom County has remained at a steady 12.9% of residents who use Basic Food Assistance, many of our partner agencies believe that the need of Whatcom County is starting to increase.
“The trend I see is that the increasing numbers are coming from people who have never needed help before,” says Englund.
Of all Whatcom County families, 18% are below the federal poverty level but an additional 24% of Whatcom families are placed below the ALICE Line,. This means that an astounding 42% of families in Whatcom County are stuggling to afford the basic neccessities of life such as food, childcare, housing, and medical care. Fortunantely, thanks to the variety of programs supported by the United Way Community Impact Fund, families can get the food they need and can then focus on climbing their way out of poverty by obtaining a job, house, means of transportation, and create a better life. 
This holiday season remember that your contribution to United Way has made a remarkable difference in the lives of so many in our community. United Way of Whatcom County and partner agencies are proud to be working together to give more citizens one of the most basic human needs, nourishment for their body. Once the body has what it needs to survive then the mind has what it needs to live.

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