ELKO – After facing severe financial difficulty and the threat of drastically reducing services, Friends in Helping Service, or FISH, will continue its work with the help of generous donations.
FISH received an outpouring of community support the past few months from individual donors and several local businesses to continue to provide all of its services.
A significant drop in income and donations came over the past year, said Tim Hatch, FISH board member.
“That’s where FISH got into financial trouble over the past few years,” he said. “Donations were down. Thrift store sales kept going down. The grants we have don’t cover all these great programs, so it was either reshuffle funds or eliminate these programs. That would have been a hard choice, but [we’re] thankful donations came in, and we didn’t have to cut into any programs.”
The donations were much needed as FISH was already trying to cut costs by reducing its thrift store hours. FISH board member Susan Thornburg said the organization was about a month away from starting some serious cutbacks.
“We were 30 days out from not making payroll,” she said. “These donors have pretty much saved FISH. We had to wait for grants. We had to cut back hours so we could streamline. That was a scary thing.”
One of the programs that FISH helps run is the Samaritan House. The facility houses rule-abiding members of Elko’s homeless community while they get their finances in order.
Grants cover about 40 percent of expenses at the Samaritan House, making additional support from the community crucial.
FISH board member Sherry Smith said the Samaritan House produces success stories, including one of a former resident who stayed at the house until she was financially stable enough to find her own home.
“They’re here shopping in their community, paying taxes and providing for their family with the assistance of being able to stay at the Samaritan House,” she said. “It was the hand-up that they needed to get to that point.”
Some locals have wondered if FISH does enough to help the homeless population Elko, but Thornburg said she thinks some of the organization’s work goes unnoticed.
She said FISH would like to make more of an effort to get the word out about what the organization does so donors know where their money is going.
“Sometimes we take a little bit of heat because people think we aren’t doing enough,” she said. “If people could come down here and see the wonderful volunteers that we have here every day, it would be amazing. If we can get some more donations, we can help this community in a phenomenal way.”
FISH has wide range of services it provides to its clients including providing food from its food bank, helping clients get the proper identification documents, and assisting stranded travelers in getting the services they need as they pass through town. FISH also provides a turkey to clients around Thanksgiving and serves hot meals three days a week.
Clients can also take a hot shower on site with FISH providing all the necessary hygiene products. Once clients are fed and clothed, they can also get a voucher to wash their clothes in FISH’s laundry room and can get a voucher to pick up new items of clothing from the thrift store.
FISH’s push for donors appears to be working so far. Riverton Elko has agreed to match any donation made at their business.
Former FISH board chairman and local attorney Travis Gerber said it is important for the community to know that FISH will always need community support to stay open.
“One of the reasons people haven’t responded to FISH as much as they should have is because it’s been so stable and well run,” he said. “We haven’t had a crisis like this, and now that it’s reached this point the community needs to know we need sustained donations.”