St. Paul’s United Methodist Church isn’t open just on Sunday.
In fact, Sunday may be one of the slower days of the week at this West Central neighborhood church. St. Paul’s, surrounded by what one study concluded was the poorest neighborhood in the state, is a church dedicated to providing bread of both the spiritual and baked variety.
Services operating from inside the building include a foster children’s clothing bank, a meal delivery program for AIDS patients, a lowincome housing service, the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant, and an energy-assistance program. The church is also involved with an ecumenical group that maintains its own food and clothing banks.
“There is an enormous need,” says the Rev. Homer Todd, pastor of the church at N1620 Monroe. “The poorest children in the state live in a one-mile radius around the church.”
Now, programs offered at St. Paul’s are raising “the level of hope to overcome the level of despair,” Todd says.
The church has been waging that battle with vigor as far back as anyone can remember.
St. Paul’s maintained a clothing bank “for quite a number of years,” says Barbara Jones, who has attended the church since 1935.
Seven years ago, West Central Community Ministries was formed. The group, formed by St. Paul’s, Grace Baptist, Holy Trinity Episcopal, Salem Lutheran, St. Joseph’s Catholic and Westminster Presbyterian churches, took over the St. Paul’s clothing bank. Then the group opened Our Place, a community outreach service at N1018 Elm that houses the clothing bank and new food bank.
According to Our Place director Craig Bartness, the clothing bank distributed more than 3,000 coats, shirts, sweaters and other articles of clothing to about 170 families last month.
The St. Paul’s congregation has shrunk in size over the past few years. That has freed up space at the church for many independent, non-profit groups that provide services to the West Central area and beyond.
Some of the groups, such as the Women and Children’s Free Restaurant, which provides free meals to about 60 people on Tuesdays and Fridays, were started by members of the congregation. Others, such as the People’s AIDS Project, which delivers about 80 meals to home-bound HIV and AIDS patients, were started by outside agencies.
“It all starts with people who hear we have space available,” says Kathy Kornmeyer, a member of the St. Paul’s congregation and its finance chairperson. “We’re a community church and as such we should open our doors to other groups.”
The Spokane AIDS Network, which runs the People’s AIDS Project, found the St. Paul’s location perfect.
“The original founders of the program picked the location because it’s close to downtown,” says Kevin Ketchie, a Spokane AIDS Network volunteer coordinator. “A lot of the people they were serving lived downtown or in Browne’s Addition.”
Since St. Paul’s already ran the women’s and children’s food program, it already had a large commercial kitchen as well.
The Spokane Community Housing Association, another of the independent groups operating out of St. Paul’s, maintains six houses and rents them to low-income families. The group also sells homes to qualified, low-income buyers.
Originally, the organization served primarily the West Central area. It has now branched out and currently is building a home on the lower South Side.
“We work with people on contracts on how they’re going to break the cycle of poverty and the kind of things they’re going to do to get them out of where they are,” says Todd, who sits on the housing association’s board of directors.
The group maintains an escrow account for each tenant, setting aside a portion of the rent. At the end of their stay, a tenant has about $3,000 saved up to make a new start.
The savings are essential to these people, who don’t have enough income to qualify for Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s really hard to overcome the cycle of poverty,” Todd says. “Our goal is to get people ready for Habitat for Humanity, but to buy a house you have to have an income.”
Poverty is the reason he cites for West Central’s image as a high-crime area, once called “The Zone” by city police.
“That was part of the reason there was high crime, because of the despair that goes with need,” Todd says.
Thanks to organizations such as the West Central Community Center and COPS West, things are looking up. When people feel they matter, Todd says, the world they live in matters to them.
“The people have taken ownership,” Todd says. “It’s the people who really made the difference.”
Many of the Our Place volunteers are people who have received assistance themselves at one time, director Bartness says.
“They feel they want to give something back,” Bartness says.
Angela Norton is one of those people. After receiving help from Our Place, she decided to become a regular volunteer. She says she knows what it’s like to need a helping hand, and it’s a much better feeling to be the one offering it.
“I like to help people,” she says. “There’s a lot of people who need it here.”