According to the most recent Mercer Island School District Annual Report, 3.7 percent of the 4,318 students in the district are provided free or reduced-price meals. In other words, approximately 50 high school students are eligible for subsidized meals. To qualify for the National School Lunch Program, a family of four must earn less than $825 per week. With Craigslist advertising modest two-bedroom apartments on the Island with a rent of over $1,300 per month, plus utilities, it is easy to imagine how difficult it is for some families to make ends meet. Islander readers may not realize it, but many Mercer Island families live with the reality of going without meals.
Compounding this issue, the Mercer Island Food Pantry does not have enough food to meet client needs. According to Cheryl Manriquez, Family Assistance and Employment Coordinator for the Mercer Island Department of Youth and Family Services, over 125 Mercer Island families rely on the Food Pantry and because of its lack of inventory, these families may be forced to make tough decisions such as whether to go a night without dinner or without heat. “Many Island residents are surprised that there are families experiencing food scarcity living on Mercer Island,” says Manriquez. The Food Pantry helps “local children get a good breakfast so that their body and brains are sent to school nourished and ready to learn.”
When donations are insufficient, the Food Pantry buys food using monetary donations provided by MIYFS. MIYFS receives income from the Mercer Island Thrift Shop, which according to MIYFS Director Cindy Goodwin, recently has experienced increasing expenses and flat sales. The lower revenue may in part result from fewer volunteers, according to testimony submitted to the Mercer Island City Council. With lower revenues, and increased costs, MIYFS should not be burdened with the additional cost of buying food for the Food Pantry when Mercer Island is one of the wealthiest cities in Washington state, according to the US Census Bureau.
We are a wealthy community, filled with generous and caring residents. MIHS students are active volunteers in and around our community. Helping by donating to the Food Bank may help the girl who sits next to you in your math class, the boy who collaborated with you on your art project, or the family that smiled at you as they handed out band uniforms. Food donation bins are located at many local stores, including one at the Boys and Girls Club. Cash and food donations are also accepted at the Food Pantry. A small amount of help can make a large difference.