Big Table, a Spokane nonprofit focused on helping restaurant and hotel employees, recently launched a new program that director Kevin Finch acknowledged probably raises a few eyebrows for its name, BS in a Bar, short for Bible Study in a Bar.
However, the name often opens up conversations among people who want to talk about faith, Finch said.
“BS in a Bar, the name normally shocks,” said Finch, who is a former Presbyterian pastor. “People in the church community, it kind of shocks them, too, but my goal is not to be shocking; it’s to get outside the box because I don’t think the box has helped us much.”
At the end of 2013, the first BS in a Bar group started meeting at 11 p.m. at Press on the South Hill. However, members had to move the session because of noise from a trivia game held at the same time, so they switched to Tuesdays in the late afternoon at the Rocket Bakery on Howard Street. If the program grows, another group likely will start at a late-night spot, he said. The odd times meet the needs of industry workers right before or after they go on a shift.
“It’s a stretch at the bar part now; it’s at a coffee bar,” Finch said.
Last month, Big Table won a $5,000 grant from the Presbytery Mission Agency recognizing groups finding creative ways to connect to people in the community. The agency sponsored a 1001 New Worshiping Communities contest seeking groups’ videos explaining their approaches. Out of 34 entries, Big Table took second place.
The 90-second video shares the vision of Big Table to care for people in the restaurant and hospitality industry who have high rates of alcoholism, drug use and divorce. Workers often juggle late-night and weekend jobs, have lower incomes and feel cut off from community resources and faith organizations, Finch said.
The group also reaches out to restaurant and hotel workers with occasional dinners for 48, where workers sit alongside executives. At the meal’s end, people are asked to write down if they know colleagues having financial struggles, health problems, or other stresses.
Big Table has helped with apartment furnishings, addiction recovery costs, legal or vehicle expenses and connections to doctors and dentist who can donate services, among other support. The group will use the Presbytery agency’s grant to help people in need, Finch said.
“We’re not officially connected to the Presbyterian Church,” Finch said. “A number of churches in the community like the service we provide and have supported us.”
Big Table also has an initiative called Unexpected $20, which includes a printable envelope available online, allowing people to give randomly a gift of care to someone such as a hotel housekeeper, Finch said. The envelope lists Big Table’s website if people want more information.
Finch said Big Table provides help without any strings attached, and religion isn’t pushed. For some, faith conversations may evolve later in the context of relationship and care of people, he said.
“I tell people at the dinners, ‘Some of you know I was a pastor, and I’m glad to talk to you about that if you want to, but if you’re an atheist, agnostic, you’re completely welcome.’ Everyone is welcome. There is no expectation. You don’t even have to say thank you.”
Earlier this year, Big Table moved from a Spokane Valley office to downtown Spokane, at 1023 W. Riverside Ave., but Finch and others often meet with restaurant and hotel industry employees out in the community.
Finch said Big Table’s next step is to expand into Seattle by January, after hiring two care coordinators there. An advisory Seattle Kitchen Cabinet will assist, with administrative support remaining in Spokane for a while. In Spokane, the nonprofit recently hired a full-time care engagement coordinator, Chris Deitz, formerly a chef at South Perry Pizza, and another part-time care coordinator, Laura Lympus.
“If you’re in trouble, we’d like to care for you,” Finch said. “We create community around food and help people in crisis, period.”