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Needs rise with economy in flux, Our Place donors keep up

By Janae Cepeda

With the economy in constant flux, the client base of Our Place Community Ministries in Spokane continues to swell.

Volunteers and donors are rising to help meet the needs of neighbors south of Montgomery Ave. and west of Division Street.  

From July 2007 to June 2008, Our Place served 16,842 people in 6,551 households, an increase of 1,000 from the previous fiscal year.  New clients continue to come, with 22 new households in one day in December.

Our Place relies on individual donations, bequests and support of area churches, said Peg Sammons, co-director with Holy Names Sister Ann Pizelo.

Peg shared examples of recent gifts and their impact on clients.

One donor, aware of Our Place’s need list, gave 173 pairs of Red Wing boots, providing various sizes of footwear for adults for work in harsh conditions or simply to walk in.

William Kemme, a third-time client and cancer survivor, was excited about the boots.  Unable to work on a regular basis because of ongoing treatment for his illness, he said that the boots make it possible for him to do jobs outdoors more comfortably than he would wearing tennis shoes.

Group Health recently gave a donation of winter items such as blankets, hats and gloves.

Peg encourages the people to come together to help others because “no one has ever become poor through giving,” she said quoting a favorite quote of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis in the Netherlands.

Currently, she said that there is a need for blankets and sleeping bags because of the increasing number of homeless people and people who have houses but cannot afford to turn their furnaces up to a comfortable level.

Our Place’s new addition into remodeled office space, means the more than 60 volunteers can better serve the clients. 

The expansion means Our Place can offer laundry services to clients free of charge during normal operation hours. There is also more room for its food bank and clothing bank.

The clothing bank is designed to have the appearance and feel of a retail store with volunteers always on the floor ready to help clients find the items they need or desire.

A young man came in during November needing a suit for his new job, a promotion that meant he would work inside. A volunteer found three suits and one was his size. Appreciating her service, he came back about half an hour later so she could see him wearing his new suit.  His grin expressed his appreciation.

At first glance, the many rows of used clothing hanging on racks are neatly categorized and organized based on size and type of clothing, so “digging” through rack after rack is kept at a minimum, Peg said.

Since the laundry room was completed in September 2007, clients have been able to wash 430 loads of laundry.

The remodeling also included a classroom for teaching clients life skills, such as a cooking class.  Its instructors visit Second Harvest to find out what food is available so they can cook meals with those foods.  Now there is a stove, sink and running water.  About 20 attend the class.

Peg said that Our Place is committed to provide for people in need regardless of personal history.

Two-thirds of their clients are on Social Security or are working two jobs and still not making ends meet, she said.

Our Place’s services include providing help to pay part of someone’s utility bills and to give out bus passes, gas vouchers, hygiene products, clothing, bedding and food once every 30 days to anyone within the area who comes to their door.

Peg, who is Catholic but attends Life Center with her adult children and grandchildren, said she has faith in her clients.

“Our Place does not investigate people or turn away those who may not have a legitimate need,” she said.  “We trust that people would not come if they did not have a need. Our ministry focuses on respect.  Poor people do not need to be put through demeaning, demoralizing questions about their personal lives.”

When he was interviewed after receiving boots, William said that the people who run Our Place show such generosity that “it would be foolish to take advantage of such a neat organization.”

“We all feel uncertain about these economic times.  It’s no fun to be poor, but there’s wisdom in those words.  Only good things come from giving,” she said

Our Place, in partnership and collaboration with faith-based and other organizations, welcomes and supports their neighbors in West Central Spokane who have unmet needs or emergencies and assists them in improving their quality of life.

More than 22 years ago, Benedictine Sister Meg Sass began organizing West Central churches to survey their neighborhood and then to work together to serve their neighbors.

She also helped establish similar ecumenical outreach centers in North Spokane, Spokane Valley, Cheney and Medical Lake.

The church partners include Salem Lutheran, St. Joseph’s Catholic, St. Paul’s Methodist, Westminster Presbyterian, Holy Trinity Episcopal, Central Baptist and Knox Presbyterian.

Our Place, which started in a house beside Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and is now housed in a one-story building at 1509 W. College, is open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and the last Saturdays of each month.

For information, call 326-7267 or email ourplace@cet.com.

Copyright ©January 2009 - The Fig Tree