Q&A Tuesday: Monty Fast - All about FISH, and what it does

How has FISH best benefited the community?

FISH was formed 25 years ago by four leading clergymen. Father Jerry Hanley at St. Teresa's still serves Carson City. FISH was formed because, in a period of recession, many people were coming to the churches for assistance, and no single church could meet their needs. Carson City had, and still has, a very small welfare program. No other aid was available. For these 25 years, FISH has been virtually the only significant human services program available to all. While other larger counties have grown major tax-supported human service departments, at rather significant cost, Carson City has not. FISH has literally saved our citizens millions of tax dollars.

What is the operating budget for FISH in 2004?

FISH's board of directors has approved an operating budget for fiscal 2004-05 at $1.27 million. With this budget, FISH will operate 13 buildings and three food distribution points of its own, supply food to several other food pantries, and fund the seven human service programs it provides. If one could compare what these services and programs might cost if operated by a governmental or city department, this represents a savings to the citizens of Carson City in the millions. FISH does not apply for local tax dollars.

How much money comes from grants or private donations?

The heart of FISH's financial income is from the private in-kind donations made to its thrift stores. These stores will project $731,554.92 into the current budget from sales. Interestingly, about 10 percent of the items in the thrift stores are granted free and directly to needy families. So FISH's thrift operations are not just income producers, they are also meeting the needs of unfortunate families and individuals.

FISH collaborates with Carson City's Welfare Department by channeling about $18,500 in federal Community Service Block Grant funding, which mainly supports homeless prevention programs and a small number of child-care grants.

FISH also collaborates with the Nevada Division of Homes in channeling about $32,000 in federal Emergency Shelter Grant funding. These funds enable FISH to provide homeless shelters and provide rental assistance.

FISH received $5,000 in emergency food funding directly from the federal government, allocated through United Way. These dollars purchase nourishing food, given out through the food banks.

FISH received $3,600 Senior Nutritional Funding (tobacco money) from Nevada's Division of Aging. This was a pilot project created to supplement senior nutritional needs and provide training in order to enable them to remain self-sufficient.

FISH received $11,070 from The United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra.

Two major donor campaigns are conducted each year. Individuals, businesses and churches contributed $122,711 last year. Included in this was $49,100 in designated giving by a group known as "Charlie's Angels" which supports the Ross Medical Clinic. The "Charlie's Angels" program is being conducted right now. Donors are receiving specially designed T-shirts in recognition of being a "Charlie's Angel."

How many families or individuals did FISH assist last year?

FISH served 16,119 individuals from 7,540 families in 2003. This included 430 families who received Thanksgiving food baskets and 598 families who received Christmas food baskets.

What programs does FISH offer?

From a small food bank in Leah Giffin's garage in 1979, FISH has grown and now offers a 14-bed men's shelter; a 32-bed family shelter; food distribution in Lyon County, Douglas County and Carson City; a free family dining room; the free Ross Medical Clinic; free GED and ESL courses; six low-cost rental houses; stranded-traveler gas vouchers; and, of course, at its heart the Human Services Intake and Referral center at 138 E. Long St. in Carson City. From that center and from satellite human service centers in Douglas and Lyon counties, direct assistance including - but not limited to - food is provided, and referrals to any appropriate agency or charity in Northern Nevada is given. This includes mental health, family abuse and violence, legal referrals, disabilities, veterans and any other need for charitable assistance.

How many employees and volunteers does FISH have?

FISH employs 25 people. The usual monthly roster of volunteers reaches 70. About half of these volunteers are supplied by Janice Ayer's RSVP program. More than 100 volunteers are registered. FISH is a major partner in Carson City's Court Assigned Community Service Program.

What are the biggest changes over the past 25 years?

Sister Marie McGloin, past board member for many years, said it best: "We cannot just give these people food! We have to serve the whole person or family."

The biggest change has been growth, but good growth, centered on providing whatever is appropriate to assist people to achieve self-sufficiency and self-respect. This has not changed. Only growth and added programs have enhanced FISH's ability to serve the whole person or family.

How can the community continue to help FISH's programs?

Each year offers a larger challenge. The cost-of-living increases. Budgets squeeze upward. The population has grown and continues to grow. FISH owns none of its facilities, therefore, it is fragile. Only through incredible community support has FISH achieved its current success.

If I have a dream, it would be to turn ownership of our facilities over to the great board of directors. It would only cost a couple of million dollars, and in the light of what FISH saves this community each year, that is pennies.

By owning the properties on Long Street, FISH would become a permanent community asset. A major expense would be eliminated.

I believe FISH is an idea whose time has come. It really is the best way for a community to do charity and welfare. FISH can do things in a manner which is impossible for public governmental agencies.

The question should not be "How can I help FISH?" It should be "How can I help needy people, and how can I make my great community even greater?"


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