A coalition of local philanthropies, corporations and individuals announced an $8 million commitment Tuesday to help families in King County weather the economic crisis.

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A coalition of local philanthropies, corporations and individuals announced an $8 million commitment Tuesday to help families in King County weather the economic crisis.

The effort, led by United Way of King County and the Seattle Foundation, includes a $2 million Emergency Needs Fund to keep people from becoming homeless or going hungry as demand for social services rises sharply.

That money will be used immediately by United Way to fund groups like Solid Ground, Hopelink, Neighborhood House and the Salvation Army, which provide housing, help people avoid eviction or foreclosure, and pay utilities.

The additional money will help about 325 people avoid becoming homeless or get out of homelessness, according to the United Way. It will also put 500,000 more pounds of food into local food banks and meal programs.

Longer term, the Seattle Foundation set a $6 million fundraising goal over the next three years for a Building Resilience Fund. The fund will be used to award grants to local organizations providing more comprehensive help to families, such as health care, job training and financial planning.

The foundation said it has raised $1 million toward the new fund so far.

Rising prices, layoffs and foreclosures are taking a harsh toll on the region’s most vulnerable people, coalition members said.

“I think all of us know people who have recently lost their jobs,” said former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, chairman of the board of United Way of King County. “Some of our neighbors have lost their homes; others have had to turn to food banks.”

Seattle’s Neighborhood House, a nonprofit agency that serves low-income families, has seen a 28 percent increase in demand for services this year through its emergency help line, but its financial support has grown by only 7 percent, said development director Chris Wolff.

“That’s just the year so far,” he said. “It’s going to get rougher.”

One part of the solution is encouraging people to apply for food stamps, tax credits and other programs that are available but underutilized.

The coalition’s call to “act fast, look ahead, give extra and give smart” has garnered support from Boeing, Microsoft, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Medina Foundation, John Stanton and Theresa Gillespie, the Joshua Green Foundation, the city of Seattle, the Raikes Foundation, Puget Sound Energy, Safeco, Starbucks, KeyBank and Washington Federal Savings.

But it’s just a start, local foundation leaders said.

“These are big, big problems that go beyond philanthropy and even the federal government,” said David Bley, director of Pacific Northwest giving at the Gates Foundation. Even so, the new funds will “make a difference between life and death for some people.”

Added Seattle Foundation President Phyllis Campbell, “We are optimistic we will send a signal of hope out to the community.”

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718