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Good Cheer offers help with food stamp sign-up and energy assistance

Many South Enders have felt the pinch of higher gas prices and increased cost of living in recent months. Good Cheer Food Bank is now offering additional help to get people through tough times.

Beginning this month, a client services coordinator from the Opportunity Council office in Oak Harbor will be available at Good Cheer Food Bank in Bayview to help people sign up for food stamps through the Basic Food Program. She will also help people sign up to receive energy assistance, and if needed, homeless prevention aid, said Kathy McLaughlin, Good Cheer’s executive director.

“This is great for our clients, seniors on fixed incomes, and people unable to meet the financial squeeze of higher food prices and fuel costs,” McLaughlin said.

Appointments can be scheduled by calling Good Cheer’s operations manager Rita Burns at 221-4868.

The coordinator, Connie Speck, will be available from 9 a.m. to noon on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month.

While McLaughlin said the food bank is glad to have additional resources for its clients, there are some limitations.

“Not all of our clients qualify for food stamps at the current eligibility levels, but the program can be a real help to those who do,” McLaughlin said.

This October, the Basic Food Program gross income eligibility levels will be raised to 200 percent of current levels. Currently, in order to qualify for food stamps, a person must be a resident of the state of Washington and fall into one of two groups: those with a current bank balance under $2,001, or those with a current bank balance under $3,001 who share their household with a person or persons age 60 and over or with a person with a disability.

For either group, a person must also have an annual household income of less than $11,677 if one person lives in the household; $15,757 if two people live in the household; $19,849 if three people live in the household; $23,929 if four people live in the household; $28,009, if five people live in the household; $32,089 if six people live in the household; $36,169 if seven people live in the household; or $40,249 if more than seven people live in the household.

With the change of the rules, local food banks have to make up for the consequences.

“This is expected to be a tough year for food banks to meet growing demand,” McLaughlin said.

“We have heard that regional food bank suppliers are feeling the increased transportation costs and receiving less corporate food donations. It all trickles down to the local food banks which are on the front lines of helping families,” she added. “If people who are eligible to receive food stamps receive that form of aid, it allows us to spread the food we do have that much further.”

Good Cheer hopes for continued support from the community to offset the rising demands.

“It’s a strain keeping the shelves stocked right now and we are hoping that our community will continue to support the food bank with monetary donations, organizational food drives and volunteer hours,” McLaughlin said.

“Right now food and prices are in the headlines and underscore the fact that many families, including lower income working families are relying on the food bank to help make ends meet,” she said.

In 2007, Good Cheer Food Bank assisted 2,780 people in the South Whidbey community with supplemental food. That number is expected to easily top 3,000 in 2008, she said.

That’s an estimated 18 percent of the population of South Whidbey.

Even so, McLaughlin said the Good Cheer team is certain that it is not reaching a large number of residents experiencing food insecurity.

Due to the high cost of living on South Whidbey and low island wages, the food bank finds that it is serving many families where either one or both parents are employed — the working poor, she added.

McLaughlin encourages all eligible to take advantage of the new services at Good Cheer.

For more information, call Good Cheer at 221-6454.

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