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Area anti-poverty programs give poor people a voice

Valley Center assisted 62,000 people in 2003

A staff of five and 140 volunteers at the Spokane Valley Community Center assisted 62,000 people in 2003.  The clothing bank alone served 24,000.

Spokane Valley churches formed the center 15 years ago because they realized people in need were going church-to-church asking for gas money, food or clothes.  While they wanted means to confirm their stories, they also wanted to track and provide follow-up services to meet their needs more comprehensively.Several churches purchased an old carpet warehouse for food and clothing banks.  Purchased in 2002, today’s center— a former church at 10814 E. Broadway—surpasses those early goals. Nine nonprofits share the space.  Mollie Dalpae, director, said 30 churches participate.

panelists on poverty
Mollie Dalpae, Kathy Barrick and Cathy McGinty discuss poverty efforts

The center offers GED education, emergency assistance, immunizations, computer classes, a children’s theatre, a health clinic, glasses, coats for children and 3,000 Christmas gifts.  It also arranges with schools so homeless children can be transported to the school they started attending, so their learning is not disrupted when family income drops and they have to move.

“We help people find and keep jobs; go to and stay in school." Mollie said. "We teach people art or skills based on their interest, so they gain skills to move out of poverty and stop repeating the cycle of poverty for themselves and their children.”

For information, call 927-1153.

Downtown church connects members with poor

Through Central United Methodist Church, Kathy Barrick participates in two community ministries: Shalom Ministries and the Spokane Alliance.

“In our small city, we are like urban churches in other settings,” she said of her church’s starting Shalom Ministries in 1994 to provide meals for homeless and chronically poor people downtown and to collaborate with other faith-based organizations.

Dining with Dignity serves 3,500 meals through breakfast and lunch four days a week and dinner one day.  “We treat each person respectfully,” she said.  “At meals, people form a support community and learn about resources.”

Shalom Ministries offers computer education, job training, information and referral.  In partnership with other nonprofits, it empowers people to break the cycle of hopelessness.  “Just as the church shares its space with the homeless, we hope the homeless will share with each other,” Kathy said.

Shalom Ministries has become the church’s identity in the neighborhood and wider community.
The poor are welcomed into the congregation for worship and to serve on boards, so the people attending Central United Methodist are “a spread of the economic spectrum,” which “gives us a reality-based knowledge of poverty.  Through interacting, we understand issues,” Kathy said.

The church is also one of 34 faith, labor, education and civic organizations that are members of the Spokane Alliance, representing 30,000 people. The alliance strengthens member organizations by training leaders and developing relationships among the organizations’ members so they can work together in civic responsibility.

For information, call 838-1431.

VOICES educates low-income people to become advocates

Cathy McGinty of VOICES—Voices for Opportunity, Income, Child Care, Education and Services—described this program that educates low-income people to advocate for themselves with legislators, City Council and other organizations.

“We help people tell their stories in order to break stereotypes.  We let people in authority know what it is like to be poor and we advocate a safety net,” she said.

VOICES registered 125 voters and worked with the Spokane Alliance on the STA campaign.  The alliance has trained VOICES members in negotiating with the City Council to increase human-service funding from half a percent to 1 percent of its budget.

Some City Council members wondered why there was need for food banks and food stamps, transitional housing and the Housing Authority.  We helped them understand our need to move beyond crisis,” Cathy said.

Beyond the Spokane County reach of VOICES, people in Pullman have expressed interest in starting a similar group.

VOICES was started in 1989 by the Greater Spokane Coalition Against Poverty—formed by the Spokane Council of Ecumenical Ministries after regional bishops and church executives’ discussion on the Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral on Economic Justice.

“Conversations about fixing the welfare system, had left out people on welfare until GSCAP started.  The poor met with the wealthy through GSCAP, discussing what programs were good and which were roadblocks,” she said.

Limited funding of VOICES has shifted Cathy from program coordinator to volunteer.  She continues because of her passion for the work and because she sees how effective it is.
VOICES works as a partner, connecting low-income people with many other organizations.
It meets at 5:30 p.m., third Thursdays, at Salem Lutheran Church, 1428 W. Broadway.
Its speakers bureau  and Let ‘Em Rip dramatic troupe share stories of participants.


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