Helping Hands reels in $2,500 -- and 120 pounds of fish

<p>Alan Evans, of Helping Hands, and Marlin Martin, of Clatsop Community Action, show off two of the fish caught at the Clatsop Salmon Classic before they load them up to take them to Clatsop Community Action's regional food bank. Over 120 pounds of salmon from the event were donated to the food bank.</p>

Getting educated about hunger and homelessness isn't everyone's idea of a good time. But Alan Evans had an angle on how to get people hooked.

"A lot of us like to fish, and one of the things we're doing is trying to educate Clatsop County on homelessness and hunger," said Evans, the executive director and CEO of Seaside's Helping Hands emergency shelter. "And what better way to do this than get people and the professionals who do this in the same boat?"

Helping Hands partnered with Warrenton's Tackle Time and Hammond Bait Shop to hold its inaugural Clatsop Salmon Classic over Labor Day weekend. The event brought 44 fishermen and women to the Columbia River, where they duked it out to see who could land the biggest fish.

Matt Bailey, of Portland, took home the top prize of $500, but Helping Hands and Clatsop Community Action's regional food bank were the real winners: The event raised $2,500 to benefit the emergency shelter and 120 pounds of fresh salmon for hungry residents of the county.

The shelter could certainly use the money: Helping Hands needs to raise $45,000 by the end of October, or it will be forced to close its doors.

Helping Hands will hold one more large community meeting at the beginning of October “to pull all the referral agencies together," Evans said. "It's going to be our last chance."

Evans hopes that the meeting will raise community awareness about the issues of hunger and homelessness.

"We have to let our partners know how urgent this is," he said.

Since last year, the emergency shelter has seen a 100 percent increase in need. In August, Helping Hands had over 650 individual overnight stays and served 600 meals – both numbers were nearly twice as high as last year.

"We expanded our bed space and we're continually full," Evans said. "The need is there."

In recent years, Evans has noticed a demographic shift in those in need of food and shelter.

"Our population has changed – it's not just the addicted," he said. "We have children going to school directly out of our shelters."

Those who don't struggle with homelessness or hunger often underestimate the severity of the issue. Evans hopes that community events and meetings can rectify that.

"That was the goal of the tournament: to educate," he said.

As the community gets more educated about the issues, the hope is that they will see the need and do their best to fill it.

"It needs to be a community effort," Evans said.

For more information on the October community meeting, check www.helpinghandsinseaside.org for updates.

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