We’ve all seen “help wanted” signs on reader boards and in store and restaurant windows. Some fast food restaurants that closed dining rooms during the pandemic never reopened because they don’t have enough workers. The labor shortage nationally, statewide and in Lewis County may result in longer lines and slower service.
But in some cases, it’s left those hurting the most without the help they need.
“For nonprofits, literally the case in Montana for a domestic violence shelter, people are having to wait a month because there are not enough staff,” said David L. Thompson with the National Council of Nonprofits representing 25,000 such organizations nationally.
That’s also the case at Love INC (Love in the Name of Christ) of Lewis County, a nonprofit supported by more than two dozen local churches recently struggling to maintain services because it lacks the paid staff and volunteers to do the work.
“We are trying very hard not to suspend services, but some things have slowed down,” said Kyle Pratt, Love INC’s president and a member of my writers’ critique group.
Love INC of Lewis County formed in 1990 to “mobilize local churches to transform lives and communities in the Name of Christ,” according to its mission statement. The website lists more than 30 partner churches: 13 in Centralia, 13 in Chehalis and one each in Mineral, Mossyrock, Napavine, Onalaska and Winlock. Love INC has more than 100 affiliates nationally and one in Kenya.
“As COVID hit we started losing people, and we did shut down with the original lockdown,” Pratt said. “When we started to reopen, people just did not return. You’ve seen all the ‘Now Hiring’ signs. I’ve talked to others in the nonprofit community, and they are all struggling to find paid and volunteer staff.”
The organization matches requests for help to people and places that can help. Callers often seek practical help — furniture and bedding; work boots and clothing; financial assistance with rent, utilities or medical copays; toiletries; transportation to medical appointments; firewood; minor home repairs or help with yardwork; vouchers for gas, laundry and groceries — as well as spiritual help in the form of prayer and the location of a church.
Today, the nonprofit that provides people in need with resources for food, furniture and shelter has only one person working part time in the office — Melodee Bailey, the executive director — and another working 10 hours a week from home. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Love INC employed six people in the office to handle about 200 calls received each month.
“So far, we have been unable to hire people to fill the three positions we are currently advertising,” Pratt said.
“This is already causing significant delays for people seeking help. When you’re homeless, every cold night you spend in a tent seems like forever.”
In regard to homelessness, a public forum will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday in the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds’ 4-H Building to discuss establishing “a night-by-night shelter facility” to provide food, shelter and necessities to homeless people, according to a Lewis County press release. Lewis County Public Health and Social Services will use information from the forum to create a request for proposals for such a shelter.
With regard to Love INC, Pratt recently sent a letter to local pastors on behalf of the board describing the shortage of both paid staff and volunteers and promising to continue operating as much as possible with existing personnel while recruiting more help.
“We are struggling to do what we can for those in need,” Pratt told me. “Some cases take less time. If a person needs a gas voucher to get to a job interview or to keep their job, we can help. The same for laundry vouchers. Sometimes people just need to talk to someone or pray with them. All this we can do.
“However, if someone is homeless or thousands of dollars behind in rent, this takes much more time. We often have to gather funds from multiple sources, and this can take days.”
He noted that Love INC is working with Twin City Rotary Club to build a wheelchair ramp for a disabled person’s home, but without more staff, it can’t continue to organize these efforts. When people who have been homeless find a place to live, they often need furniture, which Love INC has provided in the past.
But not now — in part because someone stole the catalytic converter from Love INC’s truck. But also, the nonprofit needs more volunteers in the furniture ministry.
The jobs pay at least minimum wage, which is $14.49 an hour in Washington State, nearly double the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage. But the nonprofit doesn’t offer benefits such as medical, dental or retirement.
Paid positions available include a call center supervisor and call center operators, who answer calls from those in need, offer prayer support and share referrals; a volunteer coordinator to recruit, train and schedule volunteers; and a secretary to type, format and file documents. The board also is seeking a new member to attend meetings and provide feedback and training to staff. Volunteers are needed to load and unload furniture, help in the warehouse, run errands, do minor plumbing, electrical and other home repairs, yardwork, clean and help with fundraisers.
“I think the perfect person for us is probably somebody who’s retired but wants to stay a little busy,” Pratt said. “They’re feeling a little bored and want to do something that counts for something. That's the kind of person who probably would be the perfect fit.”
The national unemployment rate in February was 3.8 percent, while it was 4.3 percent in Washington and 6.6 percent in Lewis County in January, up from 4.5 percent in December but lower than the long-term average of 8.85 percent, according to a Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment report.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the pandemic disrupted the nation’s labor force and created what’s been called The Great Resignation, with 47 million workers quitting their jobs in 2021. More people began working from home, and others sought higher wages or a better balance between work and home life.
“Love INC has more than a thirty-year history in Lewis County,” Pratt said. “We are going to fight to keep it open and continue our service to the community — but we need help.”
To learn more, contact Love INC at 360-748-8611 or check the website at https://www.loveincoflewiscounty.org/.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.