Volunteers make uncertainty of being homeless easier

By Janet Stevens / The Bulletin


If you’re uncertain about where you’ll sleep tonight — if you are homeless or couch surfing — you cling to whatever stability you can find. And when something shakes even that stability, life can be pretty scary, indeed.

Thus, the 250 or so people who eat at the Family Kitchen in Bend six days a week have had a rough few days. Though they haven’t had to miss meals, the fires that burned Trinity Episcopal Church and its St. Helens Hall across the street last week did force the kitchen to move temporarily. It was back on home ground for the first time Tuesday night.

The atmosphere, says Kathy Drew, a member of the Family Kitchen’s board of directors, was one of relief. And, she adds, sadness. Guests at Family Kitchen are often very transient, homeless or nearly so, and like members of the church’s congregation, they have wondered why somebody would set fire to these buildings.

For Drew, like me a member of the Trinity Episcopal congregation, Tuesday’s dinner was something special. The menu, planned months in advance, was one of diners’ favorites: meatloaf and mashed potatoes. The meatloaf is redolent with garlic, the potatoes are good, the dessert appropriately sweet, and the sit-down meal, served by volunteers, offers a chance not only to eat but to socialize, for those so inclined.

It’s been that way ever since the kitchen first opened its doors in 1986. Founded by just six Trinity parishioners, the kitchen’s volunteers now include cooks, servers, cleaners and others from at least 11 churches, several businesses, a Rotary Club and more.

It continues its policy of leaving the preaching and praying at the door; guests’ beliefs are their own, and no one ever suggests it should be otherwise.

It’s grown in other ways as well. It serves daily about as many people as it served weekly when it was 21, back in 2006. That adds up to about 5,000 meals each month. What began as a Tuesday and Thursday dinner service is now a Tuesday, Thursday and Friday dinner service, with hot sit-down lunches on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Other things have changed as well. Luckily for the kitchen, it moved from its original home in Trinity to St. Helens Hall in 2010 after the Episcopalians bought that church from the Grace Lutheran parish and remodeled an existing kitchen on the ground floor. St. Helens Hall, though damaged in last week’s fires, suffered much less damage than Trinity, and Family Kitchen suffered little more than smoke damage.

And while food continues to be the focus of Family Kitchen, other services are also available, Drew says. A shower truck shows up on Wednesdays so guests can take a hot shower. A medical team also puts in an appearance regularly, and the kitchen itself frequently sends guests out the door with loaves of bread and other baked goods.

Meanwhile, thanks to the fire, Family Kitchen volunteers have found themselves and their institution on the receiving end of a burst of unexpected generosity. That first day after the fire, Subway shops in town supplied volunteers with enough sandwiches to feed their regular lunch crowd. Hooker Creek Equipment teamed with Servicemaster to supply a generator so stored food would not spoil. Last Friday, Abby’s, Roundtable and Papa Murphy’s pizza companies supplied pizza for the final dinner at First Methodist Church. And the Deschutes County Library made space for staff members of both the kitchen and the church so work could continue apace.

All those efforts together assured that Family Kitchen’s regular guests would be back on home territory as quickly as humanly possible. In their uncertain world, that was a good thing, indeed.