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Downtown church serves hot soup to homeless under the freeway

Westminster Soup cart
The Rev. Marj Johnston, Gayle Schilling and Leroy Ashby roll hot soup on a cart to serve people under freeway.

After cooking soup while an after-church meeting discussed and voted on its budget, several members put the kettles on a rolling cart and took it across the street to serve soup to homeless people in the parking lot under the freeway at Fourth and Washington in Spokane.

Even though they were protected from the rain, they could feel how cold and damp it is in that gathering place for homeless people.

As part of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in November, the outreach board of Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ served about 25 people and then delivered the rest of the soup to the Volunteers of America Crosswalk program for street kids at Second and Howard, two blocks away.

“It’s easy to walk by people who are homeless, but eight of us chose to intentionally stand in the parking lot under the freeway to serve soup,” said the Rev. Marj Johnston, assistant pastor.

“We want to find ways to feed people physically and spiritually,” she said.

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Pacific Northwest Conference News

Under the freeway and a few blocks to the East, another church was serving food for homeless people the same day, she said.

“There are many opportunities to help.  It’s not just churches.  Sometimes groups of friends decide to make sandwiches and hand them out.  People are clamoring for ways to do something,” Marj said.

In early October, Westminster UCC held their annual “Manna” Concert, gathering in music groups to perform and raffling themed baskets to raise $3,313 for Meals on Wheels Spokane.

Every time people come to church, they bring extra food they buy when they shop and put it in one of two Second Harvest barrels in the foyer.  Each month, Marj said they usually fill both barrels with food, which Secoond Harvest distributes to food banks in the region.

The church also serves a free lunch to 50 to 100 neighbors from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., on last Saturdays eight months of the year.  About 40 volunteers help with that program.

Committed to partnering with other community efforts to address hunger and homelessness, Marj recently joined the board of Shalom Ministries which offers dining with dignity breakfasts and meals each week at Central United Methodist Church about four blocks away.

“We need to network people and organizations more so we can do more,” she said, “because we struggle to act on the same issues to further our common ministries and the Gospel.  Groups need to meet and do something more than just give money.”

Marj, who worked with the Homeless Program of the Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs for three years before becoming assistant minister at Westminster, said:  “We can never assume we know all we need to know about homelessness.

“We always have more to learn, because homeless people are real people with real lives who have real dreams and hopes for themselves,” she said.  “Our role is to accompany them to find the tools and resources they need to have the life they want to have.”

For information, call 624-1366 or visit www.westminsterucc.org

Copyright © December 2009 - The Fig Tree

Pacific Northwest Conference News