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Shalom movies and soup give reprieve from cold

By Virginia de Leon

By bringing her soup pot to Shalom Ministries, Pat Kroetch found solace in faith, food and fellowship.

After a devastating year—one in which she suffered the loss of her husband of almost 50 years, witnessed her home destroyed by fire and lost the lease for her restaurant and family business—Pat came to the downtown ministry with an open heart and a desire to give back to others.

She discovered comfort in the companionship at Shalom, she said. By cooking and serving food to the homeless and hungry, she regained a sense of purpose.

“The people here have been my saving grace,” she said. “I just like to feed people and make them happy.”

Terri Beal and Pat Kroetch
Teri Beal and Pat Kroetch at Shalom Ministries

A Spokane native, Pat grew up working at various restaurants owned and operated by her parents, Percy and Edna Howell. For years, the Howells ran the St. John Café in the Palouse region, where Edna baked pies and Percy cooked hearty, home-style meals for folks in the community.

In 1968, they opened The Golden Hour Restaurant, a Spokane Valley landmark where the favorites included clam chowder, beef barley and other soups served family-style in a tureen.

Pat’s experience in the kitchen as well as the dining area led her to follow in her parents’ footsteps.

In 1974, she and her late husband, Greg, opened their own restaurant, The Bread Basket, on 29th Ave. and Grand Blvd.  When her father retired in 1984, Pat and Greg took over The Golden Hour and renamed it Percy’s Café Americana.  Their five children worked there, and the restaurant continued as a place where people came for anniversaries and special occasions.

“I just loved being able to do customer service,” Pat said.

In July 2008, while Greg was in the hospital, the couple’s home of 26 years was one of 11 houses destroyed in a Spokane Valley wildfire. Greg died six days later.

A year later, Pat was forced to close Percy’s when she learned the restaurant’s lease at the University City Shopping Center was not renewed.  In a press release that month, Pat wrote:  “We are going to miss our guests and our staff who have been like family over the many years.”

Before closing the restaurant, Pat planned to volunteer at Shalom.  One Sunday morning after Mass at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, where she has been a member since 2005, she talked with a fellow parishioner, John “Gus” Olsen.

After retiring from his work as an optometrist, John devoted his life to volunteer work, particularly to Shalom Ministries, which has been providing a ministry of “dining with dignity” in the basement of Central United Methodist Church since 1994. 

Known as “Chef Gus” to hundreds of people who come to Shalom for free hot meals, John told Pat about his work with the homeless.  His stories and experience led her to visit Shalom.

Upon arrival, she immediately started serving meals in the dining room.  She learned the names of the people who arrived for the meal and sat with them at dinner.  Pat said she treated them with the same respect and courtesy that she gave to her customers at the restaurant.  She felt at home.

“I just like the people here,” she said.  “They’re nice guys who are simply down on their luck.”

Before long, Pat decided to volunteer on a regular basis.

“John took me under his wing,” she said.  “He lives a life of service and inspired me.”

When Percy’s closed last summer, Pat had help to move the restaurant’s 40-gallon stainless steel electric soup pot to Shalom Ministries’ kitchen.  The pot belonged to her father, who bought it when he opened The Golden Hour.  Pat also brought the restaurant’s food processor and other kitchen gadgets to share with the volunteer kitchen staff at Shalom.

Since last fall, Pat along with her daughter, Teri Beal, a few of her teen-age grandchildren and Teri’s friends have been coming to Shalom every other Wednesday to cook soup for Inspirational Movie Night, which is held every Wednesday from November through February.

Shalom offers people respite from the cold, said Holly Chillinski, the program manager, who is recruiting volunteers to help cook on alternate Wednesdays.

Inspirational Movie Night begins at about 2 p.m. and provides people on the streets with a warm place to go until the nearby House of Charity opens at 6 p.m.  Winter shelter from 3 to 6 p.m. is also available the rest of the week at First Covenant Church, a few blocks away on Division St. and Second Ave., she said.

About 60 to 80 people, mostly men, take part in Inspirational Movie Night. 

They come to Central United Methodist Church’s basement and watch films on a large, flat-screen television that was donated. Dinner is served at 4:30 p.m.

Pat and Teri usually arrive at 2 p.m. and begin cooking with help of other volunteers and some regular guests at Shalom.

Shalom Ministry Kitchen
Jeff Poirier, Jeff Naftel and Rich Shumaker assist in kitchen.

Among the regular volunteers on the kitchen crew are dishwasher Jeff Naftel, sous chef Jeff Poirier and sous chef Rich Shumaker.

They usually start out using Edna Howell’s old soup recipes, which also became part of the culinary repertoire at Percy’s. Often, however, mother and daughter have to modify the recipes depending on the ingredients they have on hand.

The menu is often dictated by the types of foods that are donated to Shalom Ministries that week.  On a recent Wednesday, for instance, a supply of ham inspired the kitchen crew to cook a pot of navy bean soup.

While some of the crew leave after the soup is cooked and served, Pat usually stays to visit with the people and learn their stories.  She often sticks around as late as 7 p.m. to also help with the cleaning.

“This ministry has healed my mother’s heart,” said Teri, a member of Garland Alliance Church.
It also has provided their family opportunities to serve and live out their faith.

“Loving Jesus by loving people is what I want to do,” Teri said.

For Pat, volunteering at Shalom has given her renewed focus and great joy, she said.
She feels she receives more than she gives and adds that her contribution to this ministry is “small” compared to the work of others in the kitchen.

For information, call 455-9019.