The position sat vacant for several months before Alana Smith was named director of the Eatonville Family Agency in March. It runs a food bank and clothing bank, and helps feed seniors and children from lower-income families.
Among the first items Smith discovered was a lack of capital.
“We were broke,” she said.
There was no scandal in this town of fewer than 3,000 people. No one had embezzled, no bad investments had been made, no exorbitant salaries paid.
The agency is a nonprofit organization assisted by, but not part of, city government. It has an annual budget of about $180,000, at least $80,000 of which comes from various grants.
“There was a period when the agency didn’t have a clear understanding of the whole grant process,” Smith said with a small laugh. “Grants don’t automatically roll over year to year. They can be difficult to get, there are rules and deadlines.”
Since 1984, the agency has been part of Eatonville, reaching out to the segment of the population that might need help for a month or a year.
“It does a lot of good work, helps a lot of people in our community,” said Jim Cross, who owns a local restaurant.
The senior lunches usually serve 50 or more people. And each weekend, the Backpack Kids — 87 of them last month — take home four meals worth of food.
“We try to give them things kids like or can make,” Smith said. “Oatmeal, fruit, soups …”
But the Eatonville Family Agency goes beyond helping feed and clothe. The program has assisted with utility bills, helped find health care, worked with victims of domestic violence — even helped seniors find free driving classes.
These were among the reasons Smith, who grew up in Eatonville, took the job. And having lived there most of her life, she had faith the community would step up for the agency.
“We decided to try to raise $30,000 in 30 days in May,” Smith said. “In a town this size, that’s asking a lot.”
Put another way, if every man, woman and child in the city came up with a $10 bill, they’d still fall short of the goal.
Entering the weekend, the Eatonville Family Agency had received more than $25,000 in the first 21 days of May.
“The community responded in a big way,” town administrator Doug Beagle said. “The citizens here care about their community. They live here because they love it.”
Smith’s goal went beyond fundraising.
“The community contributes every year, but we wanted to reach those who might not know much about us,” she said. “Maybe they know someone who used the food bank. That’s been a major focus, to create awareness.”
It’s an effort that’s taken a village — or, in this case, an entire town.
“I had faith, but I’ve been surprised every day by something or someone in the community,” Smith said. “So many contributors. We have checks from 37 different groups and businesses.”
Kids went door to door soliciting donations. One restaurant asked customers to round up their bill to the nearest dollar as a donation, and said it would match the contributions up to $1,000. A lumberyard had a Saturday barbeque and asked that anyone eating make a donation.
There were bake sales and afternoon pedicures. A pharmacy asked patrons to give spare change. Service clubs kicked in.
In addition to the fundraising success, there is more good news for the nonprofit. Eatonville is on the short list for a grant that could allow it to build a family resource center. It could house both the food and clothing banks, give the agency a place to meet and host events.
Food donations have increased this month as well, Smith said.
“The money will give us some breathing room,” Smith said. “But maybe as important, it’s re-introduced us to the community, which has always provided most of our budget.
“It’s like everyone in town took part.”