The Spokane Valley Community of Christ Church started a free lunch program Tuesday – and word seems to be spreading.
When lay minister Sandy VanDerWalker arrived at the church that first morning shortly after 9 a.m. to prepare, she found a young man already outside the church waiting.
The man asked if lunch was being served that day and then waited until the meal began at noon. “He came in and joined us for the meal,” she said. “He was very grateful.”
It is people like that young man that the church is trying to reach with its meals. The Central Valley School District offers free meals to children during summer school, but the meals end in July when summer school does, VanDerWalker said. The church decided to step up to fill the gap. The church is serving a free lunch for children and adults every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday through Aug. 30.
The church could have accepted federal funding for free meals, but that would have been limited to children only, VanDerWalker said. Church members thought it was important to feed the entire family, at a time when many are struggling financially. “We wanted to make sure our doors were open to everyone,” she said.
The program is funded by a $2,000 grant from the church’s World Hunger Fund and a $200 grant from the Spokane Valley Rotary, said Keith Townsend, the church’s financial officer. “I paid $514 for groceries yesterday,” he said.
The church tried a similar meal program last year, but only attracted 263 people for the entire month. “We didn’t get a lot of people here,” VanDerWalker said. “We didn’t get the word out. It was a learning experience.”
This year the school district agreed to pass along information about the church’s meal program and it seems to have worked. Volunteers served 53 people on the first day. “We’re encouraged,” she said.
There are 17 volunteers from the church and from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints East Stake ranging in age from 8 to mid-90s to cook, serve and wash dishes. One woman greets diners at the door with a bottle of hand sanitizer for a quick clean up.
On Wednesday the church’s basement rapidly filled. At one table sat three generations of a family. They lined up to receive plates heaped with salad, vegetables, corn dogs, chips and applesauce. Jada Poshusta brought five of her six children to lunch. She heard about the church’s program through the school district. “It’s nice that adults get to eat, too,” she said.
Poshusta said this is the first summer she has taken her children for free meals. Feeding six children is “shockingly expensive” and money has been tight, she said. She plans to bring her family every day lunch is served and also likes that there are tables of crafts and children’s activities. “It’s friendly here,” she said. “The food is better than the school’s.”
Even though the meal is served in the church there is no prayer or preaching involved, VanDerWalker said. “We feel our actions are an expression of Jesus Christ,” she said. “This is about reaching out to the people.”
The goal is to make everyone feel welcome, she said. “This is a safe place. It’s comfortable. They’re being treated as guests.”