“This is a really good thing for the community,” said Barbara Vance of Lincoln City as she sat down at a table inside the St. James Episcopal Church dining room.
She is one of 4,000 people who are served annually by the free community meals program.
“There are an awful lot of homeless out there,” said Pat Ferguson a meals volunteer. “But there are many that are not really destitute. They aren’t out in the cold like some are, but they are impacted by the slowed economy and are having trouble keeping up.”
“The meals program is important to me because sometimes I don’t have food to eat,” said Vance. “I am not homeless, but with the bad economy, it’s hard to make ends meet.”
Ferguson said when they first launched the meals program in 2001, they noticed several teens arrived at the church on skateboards from the nearby Lincoln City Skateboard Park. Volunteers in the program immediately realized that there was a whole new class of homeless in the community. Young teens without homes or from homes where there was only one parent trying to exist on minimum wage.
“Without these meals, some of these kids would likely not have a meal all day,” Ferguson said. “There are many people that don’t know about this program. We want to get information out to the community that we are offering these meals.”
Ferguson said the program also offers a way for many to socialize.
“Many of them come here because they are lonely,” she said.
The volunteers offer the hot meals from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday and Thursday and a breakfast from 9 to 10 a.m. at the church located at 2490 N.E. Highway 101.
Church officials estimate the meals program costs $10,000 annually. It has been completely dependent on the generosity of individuals in the community, which also includes members of the Congregational Church, St Augustines Catholic Church, St James' Episcopal Church, and, up until the beginning of 2013, The Chapel by the Sea Presbyterian Church.
“We are going just by donations,” said Ferguson. “The food comes from the volunteers. And that is one reason we are hold the annual crab feed. To help raise money to keep the meals program going.”
This is the third year for the annual fundraiser held to support the meals program.
This year, the Crab and Shrimp Feast will be held from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 at the St. James Episcopal Church, 2490 N.E. Highway 101 in Lincoln City. Tickets are $29. The event includes a silent auction with donations from area merchants and others.
To donate or find our more about the event, call 541-994-2426.
The History of the Community Meals Program submitted by program officials:
The Community Meals Program began at St James’ on a Monday night on July 9, 2001, fulfilling a dream of its co-founders Eric Simpson and Scott Sommerfeld. In his promotional speech to the St. James’ Vestry (board), Eric expressed ideas of what he and Scott felt was a much needed outreach in the community of Lincoln City; a food program that would address an obvious problem of the homeless. He stressed that he did not want to place restrictions on its recipients, simply offer a free nutritious hot meal to anyone who was hungry, lonely or in need of stretching their food budget dollar., with no questions asked. To this day this mission continues under these guidelines.
The Church Vestry was impressed with Eric and Scott’s plan and suggested they meet with Clyde Ferguson, who, at that time, was heading up the Outreach Commission for the Vestry. Clyde’s wife Pat, also attended the first meeting, and the four formed the first Meals Program Committee. Before the meeting ended, the new committee settled on Monday nights, 5pm – 7pm in which to launch this program. It was also agreed that in the beginning, Scott and Pat, after completing a Basic Food Handler’s Course and securing certification through the State of Oregon, to work in the kitchen, would alternate Monday’s as the programs volunteer cooks, with Eric and Clyde, as servers and dishwashers. At the start of the first week, other members of the church and community showed an interest in this outreach project, and joined with the committee, filling in the much needed volunteers positions.
At the very beginning the program took on a new meaning when twelve young teens arrived at the church on skateboards from the nearby Lincoln City Skateboard Park. Volunteers in the program immediately realized that there was a whole new class of homeless out there. Young kids that were considered “latch key kids”, kids without homes or from homes where there was only one parent trying to exist on minimum wage. It was, a real eye opener as they learned that not only were there homeless adults living in our nearby wooded areas, but also young teens.
St James’ volunteers also soon realized they could not continue alone with their handful of cooks, servers and dishwashers. To the rescue came Barbara Crandall from the Congregational Church, who gathered a group of volunteers from her church and hosted meals on the fourth Monday of each month. It was not long before Shirley Dunn, from Lincoln City’s Chapel by the Sea Presbyterian Church agreed to start providing volunteers on the third Monday of each month.
Volunteer help continued to grow with the aid of members from St. Augustine Catholic Church, who agreed to host the second Monday of each month. The gradual growth of those who continue to volunteer has not lessened, and although this program takes place in a church and is run essentially by church members, not all volunteers are church affiliated. Volunteers throughout the community come together to make this a true, community project.
Feeling things were running fairly smooth, Eric and Scott expressed their wish of adding a Thursday night to the existing program. After all, they quite simply stated the fact that “people get hungry more than one night a week.” The second night became a reality on August 1, 2005. And upon recruiting more volunteers, each of the four churches found themselves hosting two nights a month.
Food preparation which began in St James’ small kitchen, presented many limitations. If more than two small appliances were in use at one time, this resulted in an electrical circuit overload. The kitchen stove alone could not keep the food hot during the two hour serving period without overcooking, which resulted in the adaptation of many resourceful systems. When it came to dish washing and keeping within county health regulations, it was necessary to arrange a dish scraping, soaking, washing and rinse system in tubs of hot water drawn from the sink in the janitors closet, as the kitchen could only accommo-date two food preparers during the cooking and serving process. All tubs and dish racks were placed on a large towel covered table in the dining hall. After the dishes were washed and stacked in the dish racks, they were quickly hauled into the kitchen to be run through an automatic sterilizing system.
The program has worn out a lot of cooks, servers, dishwashers and even a kitchen. Therefore in 2007, members from St. James’ formed the “KITCHEN CABINET” under the direction of Evy Nickel, along with cabinet members: Kary Mathis, Suzy Ross, John Skipper, Pat Ferguson, Eric Simpson and Scott Sommerfeld. Plans were completed in September 2008 , and the project, …a complete new commercial kitchen, was fully funded through grants, community donations, and seed money from St. James’ Church Memorial Fund.
Evy Nickel, in 2010, - recognizing still another need, donated, … “In Loving Memory” of her husband John Nickel, the funds necessary to pave a small parking strip outside the east wing dining area, for program volunteers and deliveries.
In 2011 St James’ opened the program to a “Saturday Morning Breakfast”, served from 9am to 10am. Suzy Ross and Connie Thompson, from St James’ along with several dedicated volunteers have adopted this mission.
In 2012 longtime parish member, Eileen O’Conner, formally chose to reimburse the Church the cost equivalent of the seed money provided by the church’s Memorial Fund Account. In addition, funds were also provided by Eileen to cover the cost of the protective structure and benches built over the east wing entrance. These funds were given in “Loving Memory” of Eileen’s husband Robert O’Connor. A plaque dedicated to this couple’s generosity has been placed in the church hallway,… outside the kitchen entrance.
This program continues to thrive in a variety of ways from the generous donations of the coordinated church groups. However, The Presbyterian Church unfortunately had to withdraw their help this year, but volunteers from within this community rallied together, stepping forward to take hold of this assignment.
We have receive food donations from local distributors and business, such as fresh produce, and meats. We even received a fresh salmon, all cleaned and packaged at a local market, that had been confiscated by an Officer from the Oregon State Game Commission, from an angler who had not adhered to Oregon’s fishing laws. However, the Meals Program does not receive any State or Federal funding.
To date the Community Meals Program is serving more than 4,000 meals a year to those in need. And only recently have we noted the drastic effect of our declining economy, and are looking to alternate funding methods to keep this much needed program alive.