Sheltered inside a warm banquet hall from a drizzly Sunday morning on Denny Way, more than 350 men and women from all walks of life were waited upon during their meal of biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs and sausages as “Silent Night” was played from a grand piano.
Most of those dining, arriving primarily from parts of lower Queen Anne and Belltown, did not have a house to go back to. They were the welcomed guests of Seattle First United Methodist Church’s breakfast program, which began its new weekly schedule in October, opening its doors every Sunday morning. The program had previously been providing free breakfasts on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.
“It was confusing before because people would say, ‘every other Sunday,’ and then we’d have a month with five Sundays,” said the Rev. Sandy Brown of Seattle First United Methodist Church. “So the regularity is really helping, obviously.”
Brown said the church expects to keep the program running at a weekly schedule as long as there are enough volunteers.
“It costs us more for food, but the food is worth it. It’s worth it to do this,” Brown said.
Served with dignity
John Loacker, a volunteer with the program for 15 years, said the Sunday meals restore a sense of dignity to those who may not often receive it outright on the streets.
“It’s a sit-down; it’s not a food line,” Loacker said. “We use real plates. They’re waited on. They are treated with a certain amount of dignity and respect I don’t think they always get. Here, they’re seated, and it’s a hot meal.”
The breakfast program generally feeds about 250 to 300 people with each meal.
“What I like best about [the program] is it breaks that ‘us and them’ barrier,” Loacker said. “It’s great to help, but it’s also to cross this line. We’ve had amazingly few problems in 15 years — it’s astounding.”
A majority of Seattle’s homeless population were once residents in the city, according to a 2009 survey by the city, United Way of King County and the Committee to End Homelessness in King County. Of the 297 people surveyed, 58 percent reported living in Seattle and 19 percent elsewhere in Washington when they became homeless. Twenty-one percent said they were already homeless when they moved to Seattle from outside Washington state.
While there are no effective ways to accurately determine the number of all the city’s homeless — some stay in shelters, while others remains hidden and undetected — the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness counted 2,594 unsheltered homeless people on the night of Jan. 27, 2012, in selected areas of King County.
Loacker said the breakfast program requires around 24 volunteers each week and that while many of the volunteers come from Seattle First United Methodist Church, it’s been a great opportunity for students.
“What I think is great is we have kids here [volunteering] that need volunteer hours,” Loacker said. “I have kids who go to Ballard [High School] and McClure [Middle School] because we live in Queen Anne. My kids brought their friends down here to do their volunteer hours, which are necessary to graduate from high school, which I think is one of the best requirements they ever made.”
Volunteers also come from among Seattle’s homeless population or are those who were previously homeless themselves.
Edward Mabin has been volunteering with the program for about seven and a half years.
“When I started, when I joined the church, I was homeless,” Mabin said. “The time that I showed up, they needed somebody to cook, and I happened to be a breakfast cook. And that’s sort of how I became involved.”
Mabin has since been housed for five years and said the support of the church has had a lot to do with his stabilization.
The church also hosts a homeless shelter for 60 men in Queen Anne called the Blaine Center. Many of those men also volunteer in the breakfast program.
“When you come here, it’s kind of blurred as to who’s homeless and who isn’t, and I think that’s a great thing,” Loacker said. “It’s not so much about working. It’s about being here and breaking the barrier and engaging. Sit down and have a meal with someone who lives out on the streets — that’s what it’s about.”
Breakfast is served every Sunday at 180 Denny Way from 8 to 10 a.m. For more information, contact First United Methodist Church of Seattle at (206) 622-7287.
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