Mount Vernon Grace Church (Lauri Haug)
How long have you been involved with Friendship House and when do you volunteer?
we serve on the first Friday of every month. Grace church has been around for about eleven years but the previous church that we attended (Bethel Church Sedro-Woolley) did Friday dinners with the Friendship House café for a few years before it was disbanded. In the beginning days of grace church, we thought ““hey, we should volunteer at Friendship House again””, so grace church has been volunteering at the café most of the time since then except for one short period of time. I, personally, have been involved with the Friendship House for about 10 years but other members of our church were there for the entire transition from Bethel to Grace church.
Our main meal changes every month depending on the season, for example in June or July we will serve hamburgers or hot dogs with potato salad. Sometimes in the holiday season around November and December, we serve tater-tot casserole, turkey pot-pie, Ham and things like that. We always serve a dessert along with a bible verse of good prayer but instead of giving it out in the line we personally pass out the deserts individually to the patrons at their table, we try to get around and make sure that everybody is doing ok.
What got you involved?
We thought about starting a soup kitchen at our church. We were going to buy a building that could be used for this service, it had a dishwasher, service counter, oven and a lot of the stuff that you would need but it wasn’t complete. In the end, we never got that far, and we decided to start back at Friendship House. When I began, I was really surprised at how many churches and different groups donate food and time there, it was really encouraging. Even the funeral home, if there is anything left after the service they will pack it all up and bring it here and that’s just great because it is all helpful.
What is your favorite part?
Seeing the expressions on the faces from what we are serving and that they really appreciate it, that is the most rewarding part.
We really hope to make everyone who comes for a meal to feel special, because they are special. We put centerpieces on their table with decorations and bring the dessert directly to them to show that people care, and it just brings a wonderful presence in that room and you can tell just by the conversations going on how appreciative everyone is.
For me, my favorite part is serving that meal and seeing someone coming back to say thank you, even if they don’t speak English they just give you two thumbs up, that means it was good and that’s important. One of those makes up for everything, it is good and its good for us to do this too. It's rewarding you know, it's not a one-way street. When you help somebody else you get it back.
what changes have you seen?
The new café has made a big difference for us and I know that it makes a big difference for training people because it is so much more like a kitchen. In the old one if you had like 6 people it was too much and we were tripping over each other. Trying to get around to open the oven and the oven is right there on the serving counter. And on the other side of the counter, they fit 16 people in that tiny room.
I was saddened by the news that Friendship House would no longer be serving Breakfast and lunch because I believe that if the people need 3 meals a day we should serve it. No matter your status and situation nobody can do any good on an empty stomach. If you think that you are going to get a perfect glass of people when you are serving the homeless, your wrong. But they are god’s children and whatever stage of their life that they are in they need to be helped and served. We need to give them hope and some sort of stability to help them get started on a positive routine.
One time when the pastor was working with us at the old kitchen, there were about five of us and we were putting the meal together and started putting everything together to go but everyone had to leave because they had other obligations afterward or they just came to cook and that was it. but the pastor said, I'm here. I'm not sure how many we served that night, but we did it ourselves, just the two of us, so it was interesting.
Sometimes staff in our group is just thin and that makes it hard to do the first Friday around summer time and holidays because everybody is going to be gone for the weekend. There was one time we scared the kitchen manager, tom. It was getting close to The Fourth of July, we called tom and said” well, I hate to have to tell you this, but we can't do this Friday the fourth of July because everyone is going to be gone. We decided that we could just give the donation of the food for that day to him and he was happy to work with that. I wasn’t trying to tell him that we were going to leave him out in the cold, so we just took up an offering and everyone at our church was generous, and we were able to buy everything and drop it off, it was nice. That doesn’t happen very often that we have to cancel, and we hope to never have to do it again but we think we know what’s going to happen, but we really don’t.
How do you supply and sustain this?
I think the biggest challenge is that often people get to busy in their own lives and they don’t stop to set time aside for somebody else, unintentionally, it just happens. Sometimes its family matters sometimes it is staffing. We like to be able to come in, start early in the morning to get groceries. Then some will go to lunch and others will come to help clear it but to get the whole thing from beginning to end we are sometimes a little short on the service part. We would like to be able to do it all, buy it, prepare it, serve it, without asking for help but sometimes were shy on volunteers. that’s the biggest challenge I think sometimes but we have a pretty solid team at the moment. I'd love to have an alternating schedule so that we can say, “hey, this week so and so will be serving, if you can’t serve just let me know and we’ll get somebody to cover it for you. For now, we just pass round a sign-up sheet and that sometimes gets people motivated.
We haven’t pushed the signup sheet lately because we have a solid group. When we take up the offering we declare publicly that if you'd like to help prep be there at 2:30 and if you want to help serve then be there at 4:30. That usually gets everyone's attention to contact Lauri, but we've got about 6 of us who are full time on it. well, just one Friday a month, and it’s good to sacrifice something for everyone else in the world to make it a better world
What is your biggest take away from all of this?
There was a time when our pastor, he ran into a lady that he knew while serving dessert and he said “you never know who you are going to meet here. she was a fairly wealthy woman with a couple of homes and she lost everything. Now she’s her at the Friendship House eating dinner”. So, he sat down and prayed with her. It can happen to anyone, anybody can be in this situation.