The snow is blowing fiercely as Mike Walter hikes down Ballarat Avenue to the main road, a sandwichboard sign in hand reading “Free hot food.”
I am shivering, but this New York state native is bred to conditions much colder. In his sweatshirt, he’s plenty warm as he plops down the sign, hopefully to resist this wind as well as he does.
“I have a service heart,” says Walter, a North Bend Community Church member and a computer technician who can set his own hours. He’s out here to let people know, homeless and needy included, that someone cares about them on this frigid morning.
“People need a hot meal every now and then. If they’re not getting it for themselves, we’re more than happy to give it to them,” he says.
For children and families who need a little help for the holidays, there’s One VOICE and all of the organizations that effort encompasses. But until this year, the number of places that local homeless residents could go for some holiday help has been zero.
Today, Salvation Army volunteers, along with River Outreach and St. Clare’s Church members hosted what Harold Erland, a longtime Army volunteer, described as “Christmas for the homeless.”
The event, which ran in conjunction with the hot lunch provided at the North Bend Community Church, provided free clothing, food, bags of supplies assembled by Cascade Covenant Church, and other equipment needed for life outdoors.
It’s similar to the One VOICE holiday event, Erland says, but specifically for people without a home.
“We’re trying to kind of do that for this other segment of the community,” he said, adding that the hot meal was special. It repeated on Tuesday, Christmas Day.
Brian didn’t expect to get a present. But the care package he was handed by Erland, filled with useful items like scarves, toothpaste and lip balm, was appreciated.
Brian, a guest at Wednesday’s warm meal, aimed to help local needy and homeless residents and families, pronounced the full breakfast of ham and potatoes as “excellent.” He’s amazed at the services that churches, like this week’s breakfast host constantly provide.
Brian works odd jobs and has a place to stay, but for the last few years, money has been tight, since a head injury keeps him from returning to construction work. Touched by the help of folks like Erland, he plans to get writing on thank-you cards.
Erland, who carried presents of care packages and warm coats to visitors, then shook their hands, says its important not to compartmentalize and categorize people who need help. To Erland, homeless and other labels don’t matter—they’re just people.
“If we start treating them different from any other,” it’s a slippery slope to a much darker world, he says.
Today’s guests are slowly coming in from the snow, but by 11 a.m., the room will be full, says volunteer Cindy Altheit. Any food that isn’t eaten is bagged and sent off.
“They can always use it, always,” Altheit says.
Any supplies not given out during Wednesday’s meal would be offered to guests of the Snoqualmie Valley Winter Shelter which opened at North Bend Community Church Saturday, Dec. 22.
North Bend Community Church, one of the site locations for weekly meals for the homeless, is a third of the way complete in a fundraiser drive aiming to upgrade the church’s 1942 kitchen into a safer, more efficient place.
The 100-square-foot kitchen needs about $70,000 for a complete remodel.
To learn more, call Leslie Glover at (425) 831-7643 or Cindy Altheide at (425) 888-5627.
Among the volunteers ensuring a merrier holiday for local homeless are Harold Erland, Cindy and John Altheide, Michelle and Michael Walter. The weekly hot lunch rotates among area churches.
Stacey Cepeda readies warm coats and gift bags for visitors to the “Christmas for the homeless” event at North Bend Community Church on Dec. 19. The one-time event helps those who miss out on One VOICE’s family drive.