Kyle Jensen / The Record Helping Hand volunteer Kim Sorensen sifts through a patient’s file. The organization turned 35 last month.

Lending a helping hand for 35 years

For those who sit behind the front desk at Helping Hand of South Whidbey, making a…

For those who sit behind the front desk at Helping Hand of South Whidbey, making a difference isn’t abstract — the difference is being made in their own backyards.

And without the charity organization’s lending hand, Freeland resident Tony, who asked The Record not to reveal his last name, would be without electricity for the month.

“I have no idea what I’d do without them,” Tony said. “I’d probably try to get help from the state through food stamps, but they don’t really help with bills, only with food.”

Tony was laid off from his pipe fitting job at Nichols Brothers in early October. He’s struggled to make ends meet ever since, and has been seeking all the financial assistance he can get from Helping Hand. It’s not the first time he’s come to them in dire need of help; Tony was a client when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer “a couple years ago,” which put a large dent in his finances.

Helping Hand of South Whidbey has been assisting South Enders like Tony with their bills since the 1980s, and October marked the organization’s 35th anniversary. The nonprofit offers services outside of financial help, such as referrals to other service agencies and encouragement to their clients.

“People turn to us when they have nowhere else to turn,” Martin said. “We’re also very local. It was formed by local people and supported by local people.”

The charity’s office, located at Trinity Lutheran Church, is staffed by volunteers from a network of 10 South Whidbey churches from 9 a.m. to noon on weekdays. The organization is supported by donations from churches, individual donors, service organizations, businesses and grant monies. Eighty nine percent of Helping Hand’s budget is used for client services.

But Helping Hand doesn’t just hand out money to those who seek it. Clients must live on South Whidbey and prove they have a need. And the charity doesn’t pay people directly. To make sure they don’t enable any poor habits clients may have, the organization directly pays the entity their clients owe; Puget Sound Energy, landlords and gas stations for example.

Martin says the charity has offered financial help to 574 people this year up to September. Although it’s impossible to compute the amount of money Helping Hand has raised and doled out from its start, since the organization started recording data 15 years ago, staff say the charity has raised and given clients over $1 million. Since 2002, Helping Hand has received $817,803 in donations and given out $701,252. There currently is a limit of $300 per month allocated per person.

Martin said the organization has aided 21,517 people since 2002.

“We want to err on the side of generosity,” volunteer Kim Sorensen said. “We don’t interrogate people, we don’t ask them for IDs or stuff that government agencies ask for. We take them for their word and give them a measured view of what they need, but we remain prudent.”

For Martin, Sorensen and other volunteers, Helping Hand is about realizing how fortunate their lives are and how they can use that fortune and good faith to give back to their community. Much of what they do is offering encouragement and listening to their clients’ issues at hand.

“You can go in and talk to people about your problems,” Tony said. “I was pretty down about my wife having cancer and they were very helpful with picking me up.”

The basis of all they do is offering a helping hand, regardless of what that could entail.

“I wish more people would donate to them so they could help more people in situations like mine,” Tony said. “We could really benefit from this.”

Kyle Jensen / The Record Helping Hand Executive Director Rosemary Martin checks her calendar for appointments as volunteer Kim Sorensen looks on.

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