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Monday night dinners at Village Green serve Vashon’s hungry

Three Islanders have dinner at the Village Green on a recent Monday evening. - Susan Riemer/staff photo
Three Islanders have dinner at the Village Green on a recent Monday evening.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/staff photo

One recent Monday as the warm fall day gave way to a chilly evening, several Islanders gathered in the Village Green for a bowl of hot soup and a sandwich, some camaraderie and a bit of medical care.

Many of these same people have come together each week through the Vashon Neighborhood Mission, which last month honored its one-year anniversary of providing meals for some of the people who are homeless on Vashon.

“I tell you, this is a real blessing. … When they’re having a hard time, people need to know there’s someone out there,” said Frank, who frequently attends the dinners.

Almost two years ago, Islander Sally Carlson — who was the creative force behind the Island’s free Wednesday night dinners — was in her car in town on a stormy night and noticed people with bed rolls crossing back and forth in front of her. The image stayed with her, inspiring her to create this program, which, through the help of several steadfast volunteers and supporters, has fed homeless Islanders who might otherwise go without.

“Every Monday,” Carlson said, “and we don’t intend to stop.”

The dinner is intended for those “without permanent shelter,” according to Carlson. Some people live in their cars or the back of their trucks; some live in the woods, and others live in a trailer without heat or running water.

Frank became homeless about a year ago when his live-in caretaking job ended. He lives in his van now and works part time at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

He has lived on Vashon since 1985, when he got a job at the nursing home as a nursing assistant and earned, he recalled, $3.75 an hour. He went on to cook at the nursing home for more than five years — breakfast and lunch — and then became a live-in caretaker.

When that situation ended, he moved into his van, and while nights are cold, he counts himself among the lucky.

“There are some people in a whole lot worse shape than I am,” he said. “I’ve known people that didn’t even have a tent.”

The economy, not surprisingly, has increased the number of homeless people on the Island. Emma Amiad, the president of the Interfaith Council on Homelessness, estimates the number of homeless people has increased on Vashon by 40 percent in the last year.

“It’s a painful situation for everyone,” Carlson said. “There is a fine line between abundance and lack of abundance.”

When the dinners first started, Carlson said, only seven or so people came. The number now is double that. It is mostly men, but a few women come, and some young families have also attended.

As the weather turns colder, Carlson expects the numbers to increase and for their needs to be greater.

Some of those needs are medical, common in the homeless population. A nurse typically volunteers with the group, tending to cuts and bruises, dispensing salves and bandages and, on occasion, encouraging people to seek a physician’s care.

Brigitte Webb is one of the several volunteers who has been committed to the dinners from the beginning and relishes her Monday evenings.

“In the beginning it was very quiet,” she said. But now people are more familiar to one another, and it shows.

“It’s a happy place to come and have a cup of soup for an hour,” she said.

But some of those who gathered there on a recent Monday night noted it’s not simply the food that draws them to the Village Green once a week.

“There is a guy who eats here who is diabetic. If he doesn’t eat, he would go into diabetic shock and die,” Frank said.

“We eat, but there’s also a social aspect,” he added. “Sometimes one of the guys will bring his computer, and we’ll watch a movie. That camaraderie really helps.”

How to help

Vashon Neighborhood Mission operates solely from the donations of individuals, groups and businesses. Thriftway, the Monkey Tree and the park district have been particularly generous.

In celebration of the group’s first anniversary, Vashon’s Blueridge Company will match the first $1,000 of donations made. Send your donation payable to VNM to: SCS, Inc., P.O. Box 920, Vashon, WA 98070, Attn: Zack Krieger. Dinners are from 5 to 6 p.m. Mondays in the Village Green.

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