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Shalom Ministries dining program reorganizes

By Deidre Jacobson

For six weeks at the end of August and all of September, homeless and low-income diners at Shalom Ministries’ Dining with Dignity program at Central United Methodist Church in downtown Spokane had to find other options.

The program, which serves four breakfasts and two dinners a week, closed to reorganize.  

Pyper Duncan and Ian Robertson
Pyper Duncan and Ian Robertson at Shalom Dining with Dignity

The church had considered closing, but found a new pastor, Ian Robertson who is serving as three-fourth-time minister and as site supervisor for Dining with Dignity.  Five years ago, he retired as pastor at Spokane Valley Nazarene Church, and since then founded the HUB Sports Center in Liberty Lake.

“I have spent my ministry focused on building relationships and improving the community,” he said.  “This is a small, strong congregation with a large ministry serving the disadvantaged.”

Shalom’s board hired a kitchen coordinator, Karen McLaughlin, freeing program director Pyper Duncan to focus on fund raising, volunteer recruitment and program management.

During the closing, many diners filled the gap at Blessings under the Bridge, which serves sandwiches, Union Gospel Mission, the Cathedral of Lady of Lourdes, and other feeding programs.  The hardship was compounded because the House of Charity was closed on Sundays and Mondays, said Pyper. 

Some guests did not have money for transportation to other programs that were not within walking distance. 

In 1993, Central United Methodist opened its doors for the ministry in response to a call by the national United Methodist Church’s General Ministries for churches to provide urban Shalom Zones, violence-free spaces for diverse people living downtown. 

The program has grown to include a clothing and hygiene closet.  Student nurses from Washington State University come regularly and offer health screenings for the guests.  The United Methodist Church women collect socks for distribution.  Occasionally, other groups collect and donate items. 

A typical breakfast includes hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, fresh fruit, coffee and juice.  Cereal and oatmeal are always available.  Cooks arrive at 6 a.m. and guests begin to line up around 7 a.m. 

Guests are of all ages and races.  Children are there infrequently.  When families with children come, they are served in a separate area.  About half of the diners are homeless and half live downtown in low-income apartments. 

Many guests are veterans.  Some are mentally ill.  They range from teens to elderly.  Many of the homeless come from the House of Charity or Hope House, or live under bridges. 

There are no restrictions.  Everyone is welcome, including people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as long as they are not disruptive and are respectful of the other diners.

Pyper incorporates life-skill training and provides referrals to other agencies to help them gain the resources they need.

Volunteers are from Manito, Central, and Moran United Methodist churches, Starr Road Baptist, St. Mark’s Lutheran and Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ.

Monday evening dinners are served to an average of 150 people, with numbers rising at the end of the month closer to 200. 

Volunteers from Gonzaga University’s Campus Kitchen serve Thursday dinners. 

Believing there is a weekend gap for hungry people, Pyper would like to add a Friday evening meal and Saturday lunch, so she is recruiting more churches.

She expects a large turnout for its annual Christmas dinner from 1 to 3 p.m., Monday, Dec. 24.

“We receive around 15,000 pounds of food annually through donations from Northwest Harvest and Second Harvest,” said Pyper, who shops for additional food items at URM. 

She prepares a menu for each meal, and the cooks prepare most of the meals a day in advance.

Pyper, who served as director for the past year, came to Spokane from Texas in 2010 to be close to her parents.   Her mother, the Rev. Jeanne Harvey Duncan, recently retired as pastor of Central United Methodist Church. 

Beginning as a volunteer, she first ran the kitchen for Dining with Dignity, which serves about 4,800 meals each month.

“I have a passion for Shalom and relate with the diners’ difficulties, having experienced struggles myself,” she said.  “I have a rapport with the guests.  They need someone they can trust and talk to.” 

Pyper began her faith journey at age seven when she was diagnosed with diabetes.  She has also been treated for breast cancer and leukemia, had difficulty with the births of her two children and, after divorce, became bulemic. 

“God has brought me through my hardships and I have a purpose,” she said.  “Working at Shalom Ministries provides meaning for my life as I share in its efforts to nourish people’s minds, bodies and spirits.  I am blessed when I witness a guest’s success.”

Pyper believes many guests want respect but don’t know how to act or ask for it.   

In a Central United Methodist newsletter in January, Pyper urged people to open their hearts “to see what God gives us and and that God carries us through every day.

“God wants so much for us. God often knows more than what we can see, but through God’s love, guidance and pure faith, we together as a congregation and community can pull through,” she wrote.

Two benefit events help support Shalom. 

The Cardboard Box City, which shares proceeds with Shalom, Family Promise and Mission Outreach, was held on Oct. 12 and 13.  Teams made cardboard box shelters and spent the night outside at Highland Park United Methodist Church. When they rose on Saturday morning, they ate a Shalom Ministries breakfast.

The annual St. Lucy’s Candlelight Breakfast, which is served by Moran United Methodist Church youth and prepared by Dining with Dignity cooks, will be held at 7 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 15, at St. John’s Cathedral, 127 E. 12th Ave.

Pyper said many resources are needed to keep the program running.  

Financial donations, volunteers—especially cooks—and assistance with fund raising are ongoing needs. 

Pyper is available to speak to church groups.  She will also recruit donors and seek grants. 

For information, call 455-9019 or visit Shalom's web page.