VINES forms to support Islanders

If a band of Island women has its way, one of Vashon’s smallest but most effective organizations serving Islanders in need will see its budget nearly double next year.

The group, which has just formed under the acronym VINES, for Vashon Island Network for Essential Services, plans to become a kind of fundraising arm for the Interfaith Council on Homelessness (IFCH), freeing up the council from the onerous task of dialing for dollars so that it can instead focus on its hands-on work helping countless Islanders keep a roof over their heads.

The women came together almost serendipitously and now find themselves working hard but happily on a benefit raffle that has already garnered more than $1,000 in ticket sales. They’ve got other ideas, as well, they say — ideas that they hope could bring in $20,000 next year for the homelessness council.

They’re driven, they said, both by their sense of the need that exists in the community as well as their belief in the effectiveness of the council. Deb Dammann, who with her husband owns a 12-unit apartment building in Vashon town, said she’s been impressed by how the council has helped some of her tenants secure decent housing, supporting them, for instance, when they needed upfront cash for a security deposit.

“Our tenants are people who work around Vashon or in Seattle, and they’re trying to get on their feet. And IFCH has been a tremendous help to them,” she said. “It’s a real success story.”

Janie Starr, an Island activist, said she, too, believes the council is effective but could be even more so with a little more Island support.

“I believe people on Vashon haven’t been given the opportunity to

give to this organization,” she said.

The council, she added, is largely about prevention — helping an Islander hang on to his job by giving him the money to repair his car or another stay housed by covering an exorbitant electric bill.

“I think people like to give money for prevention,” Starr added.

VINES began to take shape a month or so ago, when Starr approached her friends Scarlett and Nancy Foster-Moss and asked them if they would work with her to figure out a way to better support the Interfaith Council. Starr had heard the council’s president, Emma Amiad, discuss its financial plight a few months earlier, when several social service agencies came together to discuss the extent of need on Vashon.

Starr, who co-founded Sustainable Vashon, said she realized after hearing Amiad talk that Sustainable Vashon needed to broaden its concept of sustainability. The group has focused mostly on environmental issues, she said; with the creation of VINES, a Sustainable Vashon project, the group now has a venue for addressing social and economic sustainability, Starr said.

Starr and the Foster-Mosses hooked up with Dammann almost by accident, when they discovered at a Backbone Campaign fundraising event that she, too, was working to support the Interfaith Council. Dammann had been impressed by a benefit raffle that jeweler Eric Heffelfinger organized last year to support the Island’s food bank. When she learned he wasn’t doing it this year, she decided to take it on, making the Interfaith Council the recipient.

The four women have since joined forces on the raffle. They’ve secured more than $800 worth of items for what is now a teeming basket of goods and services, printed hundreds of tickets and designed and placed posters around town.

Amiad said she’s both grateful and amazed by the unexpected show of support. “I’m struggling to keep up with them,” she said, laughing.

The support will likely make a huge difference for the council, a volunteer-run operation that ran out of money three times this year, Amiad said. The organization, she said, “agonizes over a $50 expenditure” and is constantly trying to decide how to stretch its thin resources.

“If we had some breathing room, that would relieve so much angst,” she said.

Meanwhile, those who have been helped by the Interfaith Council on Homelessness say they, too, are grateful for the Island’s growing show of support for the organization — a group that has made an enormous difference in their lives.

Tania Alumbaugh, who works at the Barber and Beauty Shoppe as a hairdresser, said the council has enabled her to hang onto her job in the face of a debilitating disease that has made standing for long hours impossible. Thanks to the council, she now has a chair on wheels that she can use while she cuts and styles hair.

The chair cost $350. “There’s no way I could have paid for that,” Alumbaugh said.

Deborah Anderson, a mother of four who began facing financial struggles after she lost her job as a pastor several years ago, said she, too, has been struck by the council’s ability to help individuals find a way to help themselves and to do so with dignity.

“What the Interfaith Council did is help me survive as the working poor,” Anderson said.

“They supported me in my efforts to better myself. They spoke encouragingly. They didn’t turn me away,” said Anderson, who is now making a living as a family care specialist.

“They not only helped me,” she added. “They helped me to stop beating up on myself.”

Raffle tickets to benefit the Interfaith Council on Homelessness are on sale around town for $5. The drawing will be held at 12:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21. The winner does not need to be present to win.

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