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Disbanded church continued ministry to children

By Deidre Jacobson

When Grace Lutheran Church disbanded in October 2011, members transferred the former church office at Pacific and Magnolia to the SPEAR (Serving People with Education, Arts and Recreation) program. The church originally started it in 1968 as Project SPEAR (Summer Program for Enrichment and Recreation).

SPEAR participants
SPEAR provides meals and activities for East Central children.

For more than 40 years, the basement of the nearly century-old church at 1827 E. Pacific was filled with children eating, playing, learning and laughing.

SPEAR was started to provide meals, activities and support for children from the ages of four to 18 in a corner of the East Central neighborhood between Sprague Ave. and Interstate 90.

When the aging, dwindling Grace Lutheran congregation closed its doors, it sold the church and property on the Northwest corner of Pacific and Magnolia.

Grace members who had supported SPEAR for 40 years did not want to abandon the SPEAR children and families, so they donated a small plot of land and the office building across the street from the church to ensure that the program could continue. 

The payments from All Nations Christian Center, which bought Grace Lutheran’s building, cover the costs of much of the program.

Sheryl Kruger, a 36-year member of Grace Lutheran who teaches at St. Charles Catholic School in Northwest Spokane, is the part-time program coordinator and plans the activities for the 15 to 30 children who come Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. 

Younger children play with games and toys while older ones study, chat with friends or help the little ones with arts and crafts.

 “I have worked with the children for nine years,” said Sheryl.  “Every child in the program has finished high school.  Many are going to college.  We provide school supplies, backpacks and the support of adults who value education.”

Second Harvest, Feed Spokane and the House of Charity provide food for SPEAR.  Staff and volunteers prepare hot meals on hot plates and in a microwave.  When they lost the church basement, they lost use of a kitchen.

Extra food is also given to parents when they come to collect their children. 

“Sometimes we receive boxes of cereal, which the families love,” Sheryl said. “Recently we received a donation of good coffee to distribute to the families.”

Along with food, SPEAR passes on donations of clothing, toiletries and paper products.  Items such as light bulbs, laundry soap and toilet tissue are especially appreciated because they cannot be purchased with food stamps.

St. Mark’s, Bethlehem, Zion, All Saints and Salem Lutheran churches provide funds, donations and volunteers.  Three staff members and volunteers lead activities and spend time with the children. 

Some churches donate unique items like handmade quilts. 

“The children and their parents are blessed by these special gifts,” Sheryl said.

“Families have moved out of this neighborhood and come back because of SPEAR.  The support makes a major difference for those who struggle to make ends meet,” she said.  “It can be the difference between stability and becoming homeless.  Our families are the working poor, many have two or more part-time jobs.”

SPEAR children also benefit from Success by Six’s book drive.   Board members and congregations also donate books.

Last year, three children received bikes through the Bikes for Books program.  The participants submitted a slip for each book they read and names were drawn. 

“Competition will be stiffer this year because the children vowed to read more books to have a better chance to win,” Sheryl said.

A summer highlight is the week SPEAR sends children to camp at Lutherhaven on Lake Coeur d’Alene or at its Shoshone Base Camp in North Idaho.  In 2011, SPEAR recruited and paid for 18 to go, giving each of them cameras, spending money and new sleeping bags, which they can use as blankets in the winter.

“We are now a nonprofit under the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America,” said board chair Claudia Holtz, a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

“We need a kitchen and hope to double the space to serve more children and families.  When we were in the church basement, we served meals to the neighborhood, feeding up to 100 people.  We want to increase our program to five nights a week.

Because much of its budget comes from payments for the church building, SPEAR needs alternative funding in place when it is paid off.  Its board of directors is working to be ready for this.

Claudia, who has lived in Reardan since 1976, said there is “nothing more precious than providing a meal for a child.”

She feels a connection with working poor people, because she worked as a house cleaner.

“I relate to poor families and am grateful for the ability to share,” she said.  “As many parents are busy trying to make ends meet, we provide family for the children.  

“There were times in my life when I struggled,” Claudia said.  “Now I have the opportunity to help others and find joy serving through SPEAR.  I witness the miracles the program provides.”

For information, call 475-5470, email or visit