The last couple of years, many Spokane residents and businesses have experienced financial struggles unlike any they had seen before. Many Spokane residents had lost their jobs and had to wait for extended periods to get unemployment and other urgent benefits.
Many local non-profits had exhausted their resources and combined with supply chain issues and less economic activity, there were some tough challenges ahead for Spokane. Amid layoffs and staffing shortages, some positions were eliminated entirely. While some businesses and residents struggled to deal with the challenges, others were solving some of the issues they saw by forming online assistance groups.
More residents than ever before were struggling to meet basic needs such as food and household necessities for their family. Out of this important need, the Spokane Helpers Network was born. The Spokane Helpers Network is a local non-profit that began as an idea to help meet community needs during the Covid pandemic.
What started with a group of people using the Next-Door app to assist with emergency supplies has blossomed into an up and coming non-profit. The group expanded to Facebook and a group called “Help Yourself” was formed as well.
The team of volunteers have diverse professional backgrounds and similar goals. According to their website, the mission of The Spokane Helper’s Network is to “guide low-income households to free resources in the Spokane area.
One of the original group members, Susan McDonald Osborn is now the Executive Director of Spokane Helpers Network.
“I had only been in Spokane for a couple of years, and I really didn’t have a wide network of friends or even acquaintances, I didn’t know the business leaders, I didn’t know the other non-profits,” Osborn said. “I didn’t even know who was doing what at that time.”
Osborn, a native Virginian, already had a background developing connections as a former adult educator who owned a small business. She said that her previous experience as a business owner and mentor did help her develop the skillset needed to run a non-profit organization. Her small business provided custom human performance interventions such as training for commercial, government, and private clients.
Osborn has helped organizations such as The Internal Monetary Fund, Northwest Farm Credit Services, and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She was also National Director of the US Census Bureau Contact Center Training Program. Her professional background had prepared her to lead a non-profit organization and she did not let fear of the unknown stop her.
After forming the group with others, the idea of Spokane Helpers Network becoming a non-profit was brought up by another volunteer. Osborn mulled over the idea, spoke to trusted advisors, and decided to take the volunteer’s advice. She said, “I was looking for credibility, if you are asking people for money and in-kind donations as well that takes some trust.”
She pointed out that creating the brand and raising brand awareness was part of building up that trust. She also mentioned that having the 501c3 designation as well as a Washington state business license was another important aspect of building credibility. According to Osborn, their tagline is “Necessities for Our Neighbors.”
Another anonymous group member, who was at first helped by the group, explained how she benefitted.
“Susan was so warm and welcoming. She ensured that I knew how to use the #topics feature to find much needed local resources for my family,” the member said, “We were extremely grateful to connect with resources and get what we were in need of.”
She continued by explaining how the network helped her son get a rolling backpack and helped her husband get work clothing that he needed for his new position.
The volunteer said that after developing rapport with Susan over the last year, she decided to complete her required volunteer work with the Spokane Helpers Network. She needed the volunteer work to help with obtaining her business degree.
“I now help moderate the page. I like to bring in resources that aren’t commonly known and I also help with verifying information of resources.” she said.
Since the group’s formation, the volunteers have accomplished many feats such as holding community events in partnership with other businesses and nonprofits. Spokane Helpers Network has worked with several area businesses such as Fieldstone Communities, The Flatstick Pub, and Central YMCA among others.
Osborn said the group also partnered with The Teen and Kids Closet. “They have been amazing, especially in August with back-to-school clothes.” She mentioned that the YMCA has a free clothing service for women as well. Along with area food and clothing pantries, the Network works with local businesses hosting community events.
For example, the Central Spokane YMCA hosted a free swim day event for families this summer. Area businesses have held food drives for the Spokane Helpers Network. The group also received eight cases of water from Boxed Water is Better during the summer.
Along with various food drives and other community events, the organization also has programs and special projects aimed at meeting basic needs. Programs such as Necessities for Our Neighbors, which provides home delivery of essential items such as food, hygiene items, cleaning products and gently used clothing to residents.
The School Partnership program provides support for elementary schools in the form of clothing and other needs. There is a liaison program where extra assistance is provided and the household has a volunteer liaison for a six-month period. The network also operates a meal delivery service on a weekly or a bi-weekly basis to vulnerable community members such as seniors and the disabled.
The group’s core values of empathy and compassion are expressed in their everyday dealings with neighbors in need.