Share began with an idea over 40 years ago, when a group of people aligned their hearts and resources with a common goal to care for the hungry and homeless around Vancouver. Their commitment was to help men and women in need, especially those who are often forgotten, overlooked or unseen. In the early 1980s, 40 founders donated $1,000 to cover a $40,000 mortgage loan to buy a homeless shelter for single men, with additional space for a hot meals program. This building became Share House and even after experiencing a devastating fire in 1996, the organization was able to raise money to build and reopen three years later.
Today, amid a worldwide health crisis, Share is continuing to serve people that are experiencing hardship or struggling with difficult life circumstances. There are currently four shelters for the homeless: Share House for single men; Share Homestead and Share Orchards Inn for families and single women; and Women’s Housing and Transition (WHAT) for single women. The organization operates several additional programs, as well. Share Hot Meals operates 365 days a year, offering daily meals for homeless individuals and low-income community members around the area. The Share Backpack program benefits 1,680 kids at 94 schools in the county. Share Summer Meals also offers meals to children 18-years-old and under during the summer when food at school is not available.
The Winter Hospitality Overflow (WHO) program is an emergency shelter partnership with Share, Council for the Homeless, St. Paul Lutheran Church and St. Andrew Lutheran Church. St. Andrew accommodates 50 people per night, but this number has been recently reduced to 30 per night to allow for proper social distancing within the facility.
Share’s shelter system operates at full capacity every night, both before and after the pandemic hit. Jessica Lightheart, community relations director, shares that since March 14, the number of meals being served has increased exponentially. “The safety of our food distribution is of utmost importance for the health of our staff, clients and volunteers,” she shares. “Healthy to-go meals have been served from the parking lot at Share House. We went from serving 3,700 meals in February to 6,100 in March, to 6,852 in April and the numbers continue to go up. People accessing meals include those experiencing homelessness and those who have recently been laid off.”
In addition, with their partnerships with Evergreen Public Schools, Vancouver Public Schools and the Battle Ground School District, Share has been working to get meals to children and families, even though school buildings are closed. A small crew of staff and volunteers work from the Share Fromhold Service Center to pack over 900 food bags, which are available at school locations around the county on Thursdays.
Share House has also been able to provide space for 15 men on mats inside of the dining room during the evenings, and they will continue to provide this service until Governor Inslee suspends the stay at home order. Share’s family shelters are currently in the remodeling process, but the Vancouver Housing Authority has provided apartments for families for temporary housing. Renovations should be complete for Share Homestead in May and Share Orchards Inn is scheduled for a July completion date.
“The City of Vancouver has also funded a contract to expand the WHAT shelter from an overnight shelter to a 24-hour facility so the women staying at this facility will not have to leave in the morning,” shares Lightheart.
With the increase of people needing food and shelter, costs have increased for various reasons including, the need to purchase utensils and containers for the meals; increase of food purchasing; and the loss of volunteers resulting in the need to pay staff for preparation and serving. While the organization is currently unable to accept donations of used clothing or household items, Share encourages people to donate new, high-need items to help offset costs and provide more items to those in need. The most notable items include non-perishable food, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene products, or homemade gender-neutral colored masks. Physical volunteers that can help prepare to-go meals at Share House are also needed.
Financial donations are always appreciated, too. Lightheart shares that the State’s lockdown also impacted Share’s two primary fundraising events for the year. “The ‘Stay Home, Stay Healthy’ order meant the postponement of our Annual Gala (rescheduled to August 8) and uncertainty remains for fundraising events this year, including our Soup’s On! event (scheduled for October 25),” she explains. “These two events combined account for 26 percent of our annual private donations.”
While the pandemic provides economic and financial uncertainty for many people, Share’s commitment to providing hope to people is unwavering. “Despite the crisis, Share continues to fulfill its mission each and every day. We serve a vulnerable population and are thankful for the opportunity to get the word out about Share,” says Lightheart.
To learn more, visit the Share website.