ROOTS branches out into community affair

ROOTS branches out into community affair

ROOTS branches out into community affair

It is 10 a.m. on a Friday, and tables are being set up as breakfast is being served to lunch-prep volunteers. The night before, the basement of University Temple United Methodist Church (1415 N.E. 43rd St.) served as the ROOTS (Rising Out Of the Shadows) shelter for 27 young adults, some of whom had been living out of their cars, on the streets or in between housing as college students. 

Today, that basement branches out into thrift store, hygiene center and gourmet “feast” provider.

The thrift store is a “glorified garage sale,” according to volunteer Dorothy Trondson. The thrift store opens from 2 to 5 p.m., with showers available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and lunch served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The thrift store, which is sponsored by University Temple, began in 2000 and has provided either free or very low-cost household items, clothes, books, and toys on racks wheeled into place every Friday afternoon. Between 15 to 20 volunteers sort and display donated items for purchase, attending to about 150 customers a week.

Many of the volunteers live off the streets, and the only requirement to assist in the store’s goings-on is a “respect for yourself and others,” said manager Jean Poole. 

A total of 59 volunteers are registered to work at the thrift store and hygiene center, helping to pass out the free socks, underwear, gloves, jackets and sleeping bags to the patrons who use their services. 

Poole stated that the thrift store rents out space from ROOTS Young Adult Shelter, which rents from the church and provides shelter seven nights a week. Any proceeds from the thrift store go directly into providing the free items. 

‘Not your typical soup kitchen’

On Friday evenings, there is the ROOTS Friday Feast, a gourmet-style meal that is provided solely through volunteer help and food items donated from Northwest Harvest and local grocery stores. 

Colin Lendbetter, program manager for the Friday Feast, said that more than 300 pounds of produce is donated weekly from Metropolitan Market. He also said that 12 to 20 volunteers assist with the food preparation and cleanup, and that nearly two-thirds of the volunteers are “regulars,” while the remaining may only come once or twice for community service. 

Overall, this amounts to about 420 hours of service a year. So far, nearly 100,000 meals have been served since 2000.

ROOTS executive director Kristine Cunningham said, “This isn’t your typical soup kitchen. It’s a good, hearty meal not dependent on carbohydrates, but good chunks of meat and trays brimming with food.” 

The atmosphere, according to Cunningham, is meant to be like that of one’s living room, where clients are the ones who are making up the rules and even helping to produce the meal through volunteerism. 

She stated that Friday Feast differs from other soup kitchens because patrons are encouraged to come into the space before the meal and get involved, instead of “having everything done for them.”

One hundred-twenty to 160 meals are served each week with very little conflict, as volunteers are trained in conflict de-escalation classes before working. For Lendbetter, the intention is to have a warm and friendly atmosphere, with minimal rules. 

“I want to keep the heart ahead of the head,” he said.

Founded in volunteerism

The history behind Friday Feast lies in its founder, Sinan Demirel, a social worker who wanted to honor his mother’s life of service and hospitality by starting his own hands-on experiment with community volunteerism. 

Through all-volunteer efforts, including the perusal of Dumpsters and petitioning of grocery stores and bakeries for throwaways, Demirel’s vision would come true. 

In 1996, the first meal was served at University Baptist Church. Four years later, Friday Feast moved to University Temple at the same time the thrift store opened. 

Demirel was hired to run a young adult shelter that was meeting there one night a week, with his stipulation that Friday Feast also be included. From this grew ROOTS, the only young-adult shelter in the city for people age 18 to 25. 

Cunningham said that the young-adult shelter, which now runs seven nights a week at University Temple, will expand from providing 27 beds to 45 by the early part of 2012. The expansion will give Friday Feast 30 percent more room for clients to enjoy the meal. She said that many of the young adults come for the dinner, some of them working as volunteers. 

Cunningham said that 25 percent of the Friday Feast clientele receive assistance from the government, so there can be more of a crowd at the end of the month when funds are low. She also stated she wished there was time for more individualized attention with clientele.

“You will see binge drinkers, mental illness and dementia here. You worry about [the patrons] because you wish you could do more for them because they struggle,” she said.

Giving back

For Danny, who is homeless, the Friday Feast has been a place of volunteering for eight years, where could get stability, showers and camaraderie.

His day starts in the early morning, breaking down boxes and setting up tables for the lunch. After a free shower, he may wait for the food to arrive from the food bank and put in the freezer for storage. 

Although he spends much of the day helping prepare the basement for patrons, Danny leaves before dinner to get to his own community meal outside of the Seattle area and settle down for the evening. He said his volunteering is his small way of giving back to the services that have helped him greatly.

“This is the one place during the week where I can socialize with people who are funny and intelligent,” he said. 

For Steve A., the Friday Feast is a place of safety, a place to stay warm.

“I used to live at I-90 and Rainier [Avenue South]; I lived under the bridge. I had my own tree,” he said.

Steve said that he is appreciative of the free services as well, particularly the clothing, since his clothes have been stolen in the past. 

For Missy, who has been a volunteer at Friday Feast for five years, the weekly trek to ROOTS has been a way to celebrate the life of a friend who had been killed in a car accident. She said that both she and her husband attend Friday Feast to volunteer as their “date night.” She prefers direct volunteering rather than just “throwing your money at a cause,” she said.

For Chuck and Marilyn Koressel, Friday Feast is a weekly trek from Beacon Hill. Chuck explained that, when Marilyn’s brother had a heart attack, they decided that he needed to find social outlets outside the adult family home where he was living. So all three began attending Friday Feast and “fell in love with the place.” 

“I just love the feeling of giving back,” Marilyn said. 

Marilyn shared how her nephew’s children helped her to bake about 10 pies the day after Thanksgiving for Friday Feast — the baking providing a family outlet for sharing and giving back to the community.

Former professional chefs Mark Hammond and Rick Hodges contribute to the bounty of volunteer talent as well. Both said they enjoy the sense of family and community that comes from being part of the cooking and conversation with patrons and other volunteers. 

“People need to know this is a fine effort, a worthwhile endeavor, feeding the needy and the homeless. Everyone here is very dedicated. We get little or no complaints about what we do,” Hammond said.

Connecting with music

But food is not the only source of nourishment that the volunteers provide. Music coordinator Joe Calhoun has been entertaining at Friday Feast for two years.

The singer/guitarist attends weekly to set up the sound system, accompanied by his dog, Charlie Freckles. 

Acts vary, but Calhoun, who also books for the Blue Moon Tavern in the University District, said he has found that modern bluegrass tends to be a favorite, due to the subject matter. Since many bluegrass tunes talk of being down-and-out, Calhoun explained that it is easier on the listener who may also be experiencing hard times to hear that type of music. 

He said it took the audience three weeks to warm up to him when he first started playing and booking for Friday Feast. He mentioned that some musicians never come back because they are disturbed by what they see.

Songwriter/guitarist Percy Hilo said he is grateful for the Friday Feast, as it may be the only decent meal some patrons receive during the week.

“When I look at them, I see people who are just as equal as those thought to be successful,” he stated. “Instead of being do-gooders, we just do good and let it go.”

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