By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Officials at Volunteers In Service To Others (VISTO) hope a soup-themed fundraiser set for early February will help enrich the organization’s outreach during 2013.
“Soup-er Bowl Sunday” is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3, at First Christian Church, 401 N. Dixon St. in Gainesville, and prices are entirely by donation. VISTO Executive Director Michelle Baldwin said the 2012 installment of the luncheon offered more than 10 homemade soup vendors and provided her organization with more than $1,000, enough to feed and assist several of her clients.
“Not only does it raise needed funds, the cause itself reminds people that there are people in our community who do not have enough to eat,” she said Thursday.
Soup-er Bowl Sunday has endured locally for more than a decade — some years longer, Baldwin said, than she has been in charge of VISTO. It’s another in a series of annual fundraisers that make a crucial difference for her organization.
Any funds that are raised, she admitted, have diverse targets.
“It’s hard to measure the value of $1,000 here,” she said. “For some families it provides hot water. For some families, it’s going to keep the lights on so the kids can do their homework.”
Baldwin added that 76 percent of her clients are people who have formally admitted they would not have eaten that day if VISTO representatives hadn’t interceded. Not all VISTO clients are unemployed and chronically broke, she said, but their limited funds remain tied up in other needs.
“It might be providing medicine for someone who is in a life-threatening situation,” she said. “The value is far, far beyond the dollars and cents. It takes those dollars and cents to make those little miracles happen. But they are little miracles, because when people come to VISTO, we are their last hope.”
Baldwin cited a recent case of two elderly clients who had been living on nothing but a Crock-Pot of pinto beans. Food itself may be attainable among poor people, she said, but a proper variety of it may not be.
“You can survive on a pot of pinto beans, but all you’re doing is surviving,” she said. “And the nutritional value is missing. If you’re a young child, you need adequate nutrition. You can fill your belly with starches and bread and sugar but you’re just quieting the hunger pangs.”
Roughly 80 percent of VISTO’s clients are local residents who only need the organization’s help a single time, or only once every few years. They’re people sustaining problems that are temporary, such as unemployment or an emergency lack of funds.
“If there’s a good support system, they’re not going to be there long,” Baldwin said.
But Baldwin said her other 20 percent are people trapped in the cycle of facing multiple problems at once.
“A lot of our clients don’t have good education or a support system,” she said. “Or they have a support system, but it’s one based on survival and not being able to go beyond that. And so every other issue that comes in is another setback.”
Common debilitating factors include not only poverty but domestic violence, chronic health problems, mental health issues and a simple lack of education.
“When you cull all those together, it makes a pretty formidable obstacle to try and stay out of crisis because you’re assaulted on more than one front and all at the same time,” Baldwin said.
For more information about VISTO, call (940) 668-6403.