Belfair Herald of Belfair, Washington

As demands for its services increase, North Mason County Resource hopes to receive funds from the county so it can better help physically and economically-challenged residents.

Launched two years ago, the Belfair-based nonprofit acts as an "umbrella" organization that identifies needs and helps non-profit groups distribute medicine, food, mental health services, fuel and other items.

Among the agency's partners are the American Red Cross, the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the Mason County Health Department. All of its funding comes from private donations, except for three grant-funded positions that serve WorkSource and DSHS clients.

At its Oct. 16 meeting, the Mason County Commission will decide whether to allocate $10,400 to pay the salary of the agency's half-time caseworker for the rest of 2012. A three-year grant to pay Tyler Music ended Sept. 30, and his salary is now coming out of the pockets of the board of directors.

These challenges come after North Mason County Resource lost $25,000 in county funding and moved to a new location in Belfair.

Facing the monetary and client challenges is Cat Ross, who was named executive director in September.

The demands for services is rising, from high school students with meth-addicted parents who are bouncing from house to house, homeless people living in the woods, the unemployed looking for jobs, and increasingly, middle-class residents who are struggling to pay utility bills and buy food.

"There are people in the community who are not looking for a handout, but for a helpful hand to lift their spirits," Ross said.

Many needy people in North Mason don't have money for gas to drive to Shelton for services, or the time to take a bus and reach agencies before their doors close for the day.

"If you're down and you've been dragged through the mud, you don't want to walk another block to get a helping hand," Ross said.

Mason County is looking at helping the agency become a pilot program as a satellite organization tracking and, helping homeless people in rural areas.

The organization's new location at 140 N.E. State Route 300, across the street from the QFC, is divided into three sections that house the resource organization, WorkSource and the community pantry.

"We offer county-like services in a one-stop shop," Ross said.

Ross spends much of her time writing grants and raising funds. She goes to places such as churches and says, "I'm Cat, I have a hat, please fill it to the brim with contributions and donations." Donations are tax deductible.

Donors include a woman who contributes $25 every month, to another woman who recently handed over a check for $1,000. Also, "It's the people who throw in five bucks at the food pantry," Ross said.

In September, pantry volunteers served 1,577 meals. No one was turned away, said Melody Hopfensperger, co-manager of the community food pantry.

Last month, the pantry served 56 new families. Among the needy were 156 military veterans, and 25 grandparents with grandchildren.

Donations account for 90 percent of the pantry's food, with the other 10 percent coming from such statewide food distribution agencies as Coastal Harvest, Food Lifeline and Northwest Harvest.

"Nobody here is paid," Hopfensperger said. "We accept no state or federal funding. We're one-hundred percent community sponsored."

In September, the pantry accepted the donation of 13,000 pounds of food, and 1,700 pounds of such non-food items as blankets and clothing. The organization also accepts money, with $20 purchasing about 500 pounds of such staples as potatoes and rice, Hopfensperger said.

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