Fourteen years later, it’d be easy to expect him to have burned out. After all, he began his job as the center’s social services director in 1999. But he is still at it, all calm demeanor.
“It’s 23, almost 24 years,” Talbot says. “It’s been thousands of people. I guess I like what I do.”
At this time of the year, he sees people whose Christmases are seen through the lens of poverty.
“I try to make them feel like they’re part of the family. Many of them come here every single day. If I see them once, I’ll remember their name,” Talbot says.
The center offers plenty.
For seniors on weekdays there is lunch ($4 suggested donation); for everyone there is a well-stocked food bank, and everything from arts and crafts to a computer lab. A $15 monthly family membership includes use of weight and gym rooms, a game room, Wi-Fi, and tutoring for school-age children.
If you have ever wondered about the specifics of how your contributions to The Seattle Times Fund for Those in Need are spent, here is a specific example.
Last year, someone whose mom had died didn’t have the money for a funeral. Talbot came up with $750 for a cremation.
Here are a few more examples:
- $787 to pay for a family’s Highline Water District bill so the water could be turned back on.
- $1,489 to another water district, also to turn the water back on.
- $300 for prescription eyeglasses.
- $1,200 for dental work.
- $4,000 to a family for rent money.
“A lot of them were impacted by COVID. They’re just returning to work, and it’s about the same time landlords were able to start serving eviction notices,” Talbot says. Seattle’s COVID-19 eviction moratorium expired at the end of February.
The Times fund benefits 13 nonprofits. The 2021 drive resulted in $3.2 million in donations, of which $539,360 went to The Salvation Army, which then allocated $87,500 for Talbot’s winter-relief fund.
“Let’s see, we got the money in April. It was gone by July 15,” Talbot says. It’s tough times.
When that money runs out, Talbot tries to find other agencies that can help someone with that electric bill. “It can be challenging sometimes,” he says.
Year in and year out, he’s counted on those donations from Seattle Times readers, he says. This year, 51 families at his branch were helped with rent money. And 62 families got dollars to help with electric and water bills.
It’s the working poor who are familiar clients, he says.
“A lot of them have two jobs and they still can’t make ends meet. Honestly, I don’t think I can afford to retire. Our property taxes are so high,” he says. Talbot, 65, and his wife, Janeece, the senior center director at the facility, live about a mile away.
Seven days a week the branch collects groceries donated by the Fred Meyer in Burien, and the QFC, Safeway, Thriftway and Metropolitan Market in West Seattle. In a typical week, 4,800 pounds of groceries are collected.
Much of the food is right at or past the pull date for supermarkets, although there’s nothing wrong with it.
Brian Bixenman, manager of the Thriftway, says of the groceries donated: “It’s like apples with a bruise mark, or cans that have a dent or the label falls off. Sometimes lights in the case or fluorescent lights make meat change color a little bit, make it look pale. It’s perfectly fine.”
One recent afternoon, Amy Velasquez Cruz, 32, of SeaTac, is at The Salvation Army’s White Center branch with her 11-month-old daughter and another daughter who’s just about 2. She grew up in this neighborhood.
She’s filled grocery bags with potatoes, apples, flour tortillas, bread, fruit cups, canned green beans and other groceries.
Her husband is a roofer, she says.
“Work is slow for him, four days these past two weeks,” Cruz says. The family of five lives in a one-bedroom duplex.
This is her first visit to the food pantry. It’s a bit embarrassing, Cruz says. “I’m not used to asking for help.”
The family has an EBT account, the basic food benefits from the state. “It only lasts me two or three weeks,” she says. “Milk was $3 a gallon. Now it’s $6. Tortillas were like $3. Now $6.”
Talbot says the center tries hard to make those coming to the food pantry welcome.
“We don’t limit how many times you can come to the food bank. I tell them, you can come here every day before going to the grocery store, the prices are so high,” he says.
He’s familiar with the emotions felt by those seeking help because back in October 1998, he also came to The Salvation Army for assistance.
He had worked for a contractor for nine years, fell 15 feet off a ladder, damaged his heels severely, rebounded and found work in light carpentry and apartment maintenance.
But that October the couple hit financial hardships as their mortgage and other bills piled up. At the White Center Salvation Army branch, they got a one-time assistance of $150 to get their water turned back on, and they lined up at the food bank.
The couple rebounded and, wanting to give back, returned to the branch as volunteers. Their work was so impressive they were offered jobs.
Alvaro Garces, 31, of Federal Way, also wants to give back. He has been an administrative assistant at the White Center branch for a year, doing everything from accounts receivable to marketing to using his Spanish fluency to help in translation.
In May 2021, at the urging of his mother and friends, who had watched his life disintegrate, Garces entered The Salvation Army’s free, six-month inpatient Seattle Adult Rehabilitation Program.
By then he faced two DUIs and had gone through one outpatient rehab and a 30-day inpatient rehab. He would soon relapse.
He was part of a sizable group of Americans.
Over 14 million adults over 18 fit the criteria for alcoholism, with two-thirds being men, according to a 2018 report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
“I was known as a big stoner in high school,” remembers Garces, who graduated in 2010 from Lindbergh High School in Renton.
After high school, Garces’ life included boozing and “pretty much anything” in the way of drugs. He bounced around warehouse and temp jobs to which he’d inevitably show up having already started drinking.
Once, in 2018, at the warehouse job, he collapsed, with his stomach in agonizing pain, Garces says. “I had been drinking so much and so often that I was hemorrhaging.”
Still, he remembers, a couple of hours after being released from a hospital emergency room, he bought a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
Then he was fired from the warehouse job because he was too drunk to show up.
Broke, Garces says, “I was scrounging quarters and buying whatever I could get my hands on.” A 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor would do.
Finally, hitting rock bottom, he signed up for The Salvation Army program.
It meant living in a two-bedroom apartment with five other men: “Two guys in each bedroom, two guys in the living room. Waking up at 5, making your bed, shaving your face, a collared shirt tucked in, be a presentable adult.”
It meant working eight hours a day at one of The Salvation Army stores.
Because it’s a faith-based program, he says, there was a mandatory Sunday service, as well as Bible study once a week, AA meetings and anger management counseling.
“I did everything I was told, but I complained the whole way,” Garces says.
In November 2021 he graduated from the program and he’s stayed clean and sober since, he says.
Wanting to stay with The Salvation Army, Garces got a job working 20 hours a week at the White Center branch in its after-school program.
He worked with children from first to eighth grade who come to the branch. “We’d play some dodgeball or something to wind them down, then go to the classroom and work on anything that they had been assigned from school,” Garces says.
That led to his current full-time job at the White Center branch.
He’s a happy man.
If recently you happened to stop by the Fred Meyer in Burien, you’d have come across Garces helping collect toys to give kids for Christmas. By his side you’ll likely see his companion of recent years, Rose, a 4-year-old Siberian husky who takes life around her in utter tranquillity.
“This organization literally saved my life,” Garces says. “I wanted a constant reminder of my past. I didn’t have any purpose in life besides getting wasted.”
Back in that 2008 story, Bill Talbot said he knows some might judge severely those seeking help.
“It’s not my place to judge anyone. I’m not better than anyone else on this earth,” he said then.
He still very much believes that.