Four community organizations have banded together to raise awareness of food insecurity on Mercer Island with an initiative titled Together NIGH (No Islander Goes Hungry).
Aiming to connect with the community to support increased donations to the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (YFS) food pantry, together the YFS Foundation, Mercer Island Farmers Market, Rotary Club of Mercer Island Foundation and the Mercer Island Community Fund are launching their summer outreach campaign with booths at the July 9 Summer Celebration and July 10 farmers market.
According to YFS food pantry statistics, there were 1,496 uses in 2019, and the numbers jumped to 2,644 in 2020 and further to 3,377 in 2021, with the latter two being the initial pandemic years. In the first five months of 2022, there were 1,402 uses, and there were 1,460 in 2021, 786 in 2020 and 633 in 2019.
The food pantry currently accepts only cash and gift card donations to grocery stores.
“People just have to be aware that there truly is a hunger issue on Mercer Island and then (we’ll) give them the tools to help,” said Sharon Perez, who sits on the community fund board and works with the Rotary foundation on marketing and promotion.
Debbi Gillotti, who is the Rotary president elect and YFS Foundation board vice president, is one of the NIGH originators and said the four organizations can more effectively promote their mission through collaboration.
“I feel honored to work with such a great group of organizations that have a common theme and passion around resolving the issue around food insecurity,” she said of the strength-in-numbers approach.
Gillotti added that with the need for assistance still present and growing, it’s time for the NIGH members to have face-to-face conversations with residents at community events to build awareness about hunger concerns. They hope to continue their efforts through the summer and into the holiday season and beyond.
Perez and Gillotti said the YFS Foundation’s goal is to raise $125,000 yearly for its emergency assistance fund and that NIGH donations will help support that goal. QR codes are available to go directly to the fund.
To bring NIGH into existence, farmers market leadership contacted the YFS Foundation about a summer education program they had on tap to bring awareness to the hunger issue. They spoke of a potential collaboration and soon it was in the making.
Farmers market staff members are excited and honored for their organization to be a NIGH founding member and added: “The past two years have seen food insecurity increase nationally, including in our own backyard. At the outset of our offseason, one of our main goals for the 2022 market was to better address this growing issue via both our own programming and via community organizations already doing this work.”
Perez previously worked for 11 months as the interim administrator for the YFS Thrift Shop and became deeply involved with the organization’s mission and programs. She feels the four-pronged approach will increase efficiency in connecting with the community to help fight hunger.
Tambi Cork, YFS administrator, said, “YFS continues to see pandemic economic impacts, and now inflation, exacerbating food instability for our most vulnerable neighbors. Together NIGH is an example of how the Mercer Island community continues to stand together and show up for neighbors in need. YFS could not do this work without the generosity of this community.”
For more information about YFS programs, visit www.mercerisland.gov/yfs.