Where do individuals and families go if they live on low incomes or are hungry? How do young parents find the support needed for help with parenting skills? What do people whose first language is Spanish do when they need someone to advocate for them?
The questions and needs are limitless, but the answer is the same for many individuals and families in Seattle – FamilyWorks. Located in Wallingford, FamilyWorks is unique in that it is both a food bank and a resource center.
The diversity of programs FamilyWorks offers is as impressive in number as in the range of those they help. FamilyWorks exists to serve anyone in the community, regardless of income or circumstances. People from all walks of life who find themselves in need of services are welcome to come in and ask for assistance.
Their programs assist babies, teenage mothers, families, parents, individuals living on very low incomes, those who are hungry, kids starting school, homebound senior citizens, and on and on. Equally important, if the staff at FamilyWorks can’t deliver the direct service to solve someone’s problem, they do what is necessary to connect them to someone who can.
It was an eye opening and humbling experience being a volunteer at FamilyWorks for two years. During that time, I found the best part was the opportunity to work alongside employees and volunteers whose life mission is helping people. An added bonus was meeting many wonderful people in our community who depend on FamilyWorks.
On my first day, Jake Weber, the charismatic Director of FamilyWorks, explained to me that the two food banks under the auspices of FamilyWorks – the Wallingford and Greenwood food banks – both provide donated fresh and healthy food to people who are hungry or who do not have the financial resources to always go to the grocery store. This was a good thing to know as many individuals and families would walk in the FamilyWorks door in need of food.
As a volunteer, one of my jobs was to assist men and women experiencing homelessness who came in and asked for a food bag. Food bags are prepared each day for people who are hungry, and they are provided free of charge to those in need.
One day a young mom came through and inquired about her weekly diapers, which are provided for people enrolled in a program with the same signup rules as food bags. After receiving her diapers, the mom went through the available free clothes for her daughter (along with some clothes she even found a stroller!). Clothing items for all ages are donated regularly to FamilyWorks, some of which are handmade by RSVP volunteers from a nearby senior retirement community.
I especially remember a worried Spanish-speaking mom and her children coming in on one occasion. Gladys Martinez, Teen Parent & Family Program Coordinator, is bilingual, and she was able to answer all her questions. This was a great source of relief to a stressed-out mother searching for resources.
I witnessed numerous examples of staff acting with both knowledge and compassion as they were able to advocate for those who did not know where else to turn.
Haley Berra, Family Advocate, was able to assist an upset, anxious young woman by helping her access the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, a supplemental nutrition program for women with infants and children under the age of five.
When a young American woman and her husband from Eastern Europe (and a new citizen) were having trouble signing up for healthcare, Haley was again able to advocate. By making some phone calls, she determined the agency these folks needed to contact and helped resolve their predicament.
These are just a few examples of the many ways in which FamilyWorks assists people in the community.
I believe there are three keys to the success of FamilyWorks. Clearly the first lies with the employees. They are dedicated to helping the people of the community, and they all love their work. The employees make a difference in people’s lives – is there a better statement that can be made?
Second, FamilyWorks survives on the donations received every year. Cash donations are a primary source used to run operations. Other donations that are critical include diapers, socks, kids’ clothing, books, games, toys, strollers, etc. – and of course qualifying food donations.
Third, FamilyWorks could not survive without the volunteers who help in all areas of the operation. Kat Johnson, Volunteer Coordinator, does a wonderful job recruiting and managing the volunteers. She tells me that last year, there were 550 different volunteers who contributed 9,000 volunteer hours!
To find out more about FamilyWorks in general, and about donating and volunteering, visit www.familyworksseattle.org or just drop in and see for yourself.