It's time to play Santa

Jean Wieman is hoping North Whidbey residents will enjoy playing Santa Claus and bringing gifts of food to the needy this week.

She is executive director of North Whidbey Help House, where the shelves of the food bank traditionally get a bit bare at mid-year.

To stock up, Help House annually sponsors “Christmas in July,” a community event that draws together service clubs, churches, businesses and regular folks to fill the pantry for the needy.

Wieman said the demand for food continues to grow at Help House. Through June of this year, 2,615 baskets of food had been given out, providing food for 6,256 people. That’s 281 more food baskets and 552 more people fed than during the same period last year.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things,” Wieman said of the increased numbers seeking help. She cited the high cost of gasoline and “skyrocketing” prices of home heating fuels as prime causes.

For some those price increases are only an annoyance, but for those on a limited income it can force a choice between heating the house or eating, so they go to the Help House for assistance.

Wieman said the average monthly income of civilians receiving assistance at Help House is $744.46, primarily derived from Social Security or welfare checks. Many are elderly or disabled.

Christmas in July is intended to “get us to the holidays,” Wieman said, when food donations traditionally soar. The goal this July is 5,000 items of donated food. Here are ways to help:

• Saturday, July 15, volunteers will be collecting food items outside Albertson’s, Market Place and Safeway from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• Also Saturday, eat lunch at participating restaurants and see 10 percent of the price of the meal go to Help House. Participating are McDonald’s, Dairy Valley, Zorba’s and Chocolates for Breakfast.

• Island Drug has a Help House promotion, offering 5 percent off per can of food, up to 40 percent off certain items. Other businesses, such as Ace Hardware, are giving donations directly to Help House.

• Take advantage of “Business After Hours,” sponsored by the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which will be held at Help House Thursday, July 13, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Stop by 1091 SE Hathaway and learn about your local food bank. Bring along a can of food.

Wieman said Help House is an effective way to help the needy. It gets 70 percent of its operating budget from private donations, and spends only 8 percent on administrative costs. “We’re pretty proud of that,” she said.

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