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New meals program fills a growing need
Three months after launching a pilot program that provides free meals seven days a week, members of the Vashon Social Services Network (VSSN) say the meals are serving a definite need on the Island.
Prior to this program, which began Oct. 1, free dinners were available two to four days a week, but now Islanders who would benefit from a free meal can attend a dinner six days a week as well as Sunday brunch. Staffed by coordinator Robin Blair and a host of volunteers, the program has served roughly 1,800 meals to Islanders since it began a little more than three months ago.
“Clearly the need is growing,” said Emma Amiad, a member of the VSSN and a board member of the Interfaith Council to Prevent Homelessness.
Blair stressed that it is not just homeless people who attend the dinners, but a wide range of people, including families in which at least one of the parents works. The cost of living is high here, Blair noted, and some families do not have enough money in their budgets for utilities and food.
“One person working is not enough with the rents people have to pay on the Island,” she said.
Typically, Blair said, between 20 and 40 people turn out for each meal, though the average is between 20 and 26, with the numbers increasing toward the end of the month.
Volunteers have made this effort possible, Blair noted, but more assistance is needed, including five more volunteer teams that would make dinner once a month. Four to five adults per team is optimal; children are also welcome.
Additional volunteers are needed for other components of the program, including creating a database, developing a website, managing a food pantry and coordinating with grocers and farmers to gather donations.
“We are asking ‘What are the sustainability pieces that are missing?’ We would like to use volunteers to fill those needs,” Blair said.
One of the important aspects of the program’s sustainability is storage, Amiad said. Meal program organizers are looking for a space that would be readily accessible and that could accommodate a freezer. Having such a space would make it possible to access more food sources and enable more volunteers who could not pay for the meals to participate.
Many people who were formerly homeless now have homes and some have jobs, Amiad noted, and several have been volunteers for the program, cooking and serving the meals. Their efforts have been supported by people who may not want to cook but want to support the program and have given money to buy food. Amiad calls them “Meal Angels.”
Those donations have been wonderful, she said, noting that recently one family gave $500.
“We would love an angel who would give the Lutheran Church a dishwasher,” she added.
A recent change to the program, Amiad said, is that Monday night dinners, long held in the Village Green, are now meeting at the Methodist Church, a more comfortable place in the dark, cold months. When it is nice again, the meals will move back outside. Volunteers from the Vashon Eagles provide that dinner each week and have for at least two years.
The daily meals program was developed after members of the VSSN took stock of Vashon’s resources for people in need, noted the lack of consistent meals and knew that many individuals and families had been hit hard by the difficult economic times.
“The recession has really run over everybody like a truck,” Amiad said.
Blair agrees and believes people who have not yet been to the dinners or brunch would benefit.
“I think we’re seeing the tip of the need,” she said.
She hopes that as program becomes more defined, other families will attend. The goal is that people view the meals as a community gathering that happens to be free and that both those who serve and those who attend become friends and colleagues.
If that happens, “We would have higher numbers than we have now,” Blair said.
Halfway through the pilot program’s duration, Blair said she is not sure yet what the program’s future holds.
“It’s too early to say if it will continue,” she said. But so far, she added, the effort is clearly filling a need.
Free meals coordinated by the Vashon Social Services Network
5 p.m. Mondays at the Methodist Church
5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Presbyterian Church
5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Church of the Holy Spirit
5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Presbyterian Church
5:30 p.m. Friday at the Lutheran Church
5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Methodist Church
1 to 2 p.m. Sunday at the Methodist Church
To volunteer, email Robin Blair at firstname.lastname@example.org.