Meals program readies itself for another year of weeklong service

Vashon’s meals program, which offers a free meal each day, is gearing up for its second full year — with a new coordinator at the helm and a vision to eventually create a central place for daily meal delivery.

The Vashon Social Services Network (VSSN) launched the effort Oct. 1 last year with support from Island churches after a community survey showed a large need for free meals on the Island.

Now, volunteers plan meals, shop, cook and serve hot meals daily at downtown Island churches, according to Emma Amiad of the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness (IFCH) and one of the organizers of the program. Between 15 and 50 people attend each day, she said, with numbers climbing throughout the month and in the winter, when heating expenses run high.

“We’re really pleased with how well it is going,” Amiad said.

Looking to the future, VSSN hopes to create a central place where everyone who wants a meal can go each day to get one, Amiad said. Those who have the means to pay would do so, and those who could not would not. This model exists in many communities, she noted, but creating such a place here would require the right facility and funding to go with it.

Soon, she said, program organizers will turn to some of the program’s volunteers to see if they would study just how this vision might come to be on Vashon.

“I think it will take a year or two to get all the pieces to fit together,” she said.

For now, she notes, the program, which rotates among the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Lutheran churches, is providing a much-needed service for many. It assures that people will have one hot meal a day and allows people with limited incomes to use their funds for expenses other than food. It also provides a sense of fellowship and camaraderie, according to Harmon Arroyo, an IFCH board member who stepped in as the program coordinator last month.

There is a sense of “conviviality,” he said, and likened the scene to a neighborhood restaurant.

“People sit and talk around the tables just like they do at The Hardware Store,” he said.

Those who attend are encouraged to eat their fill, he noted, and it is common for volunteers to serve twice as many helpings of food as people in attendance.

“We want them to leave full, satisfied and happy,” he said. “To a large extent, that happens.”

Those who attend are a diverse lot, he noted, including families with young children, skilled laborers working their way back from hard times and musicians who perform but do not earn enough to make ends meet.

“There are people who live in their cars,” he said. “It’s awfully hard to cook in your car.”

Mostly, those who come for a meal are Vashon residents, he said. “They live here and love it here.”

Many who attend are employed, Amiad added.

“With what people earn on Vashon, it’s not enough, especially with a family,” she said.

Arroyo, who has held his new position less than two months, said he’s impressed by the level of volunteer support. Through the end of the year, the volunteer roster is fairly full and includes church groups, book clubs and high school students earning their community service hours to fulfill their graduation requirements.

“I’m so grateful,” he said. “I try not to get complacent about making it as easy for people as possible.”

Still, more volunteers are welcome, he said. Typically, volunteers work in groups of three to six, often sign up together and typically commit to one meal per month.

In addition to volunteers, the program needs financial support, Amiad said.

“We have not done fundraising,” she said. “We’re looking for donations.”

Funds would support the program in a variety of ways, Amiad said, including purchasing supplies, supporting the food coordinator’s salary and covering some of the participating church’s expenses.

At the meals, sometimes additional support is available for those who attend, Amiad said. A nurse may come by to address medical needs; someone might provide information on the dental van, and information on public benefits and the food bank is also provided. But the meal is critical.

“The most important thing is that people get fed,” Amiad said.

For Arroyo, who attends three meals each week, the scene is always a remarkable one, with bountiful good food and conversation.

“It’s a crucial service,” he said. “Breaking bread, sharing food with our neighbors who need and appreciate it.”

He calls it “sublime humanity.”

“You can come and see it in action,” he said.


Free Meals:

Meals are served at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Here are the locations:

Monday, Methodist Church

Tuesday, Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, Church of the Holy Spirit

Thursday, Presbyterian Church

Friday, Lutheran Church

Saturday, Methodist Church

Sunday, Methodist Church

To volunteer or donate to the program, contact Emma Amiad at 463-4060.


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