Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Working across faiths, three churches shift 200 beds for homeless families

What happens when a Mormon, a Catholic and a Seventh-day Adventist walk into an apartment complex?

On Thursday, the answer was: Something good.

Members of the three churches did some heavy lifting Thursday evening, moving 200 bed frames and mattresses into a new 50-unit apartment building for homeless families in Spokane Valley.

Teenagers, retirees and plenty in between marched lines of boxes and rolled-up mattresses into apartments as coordinators with clipboards managed the chaos and tracked the flow of furniture.

The project started when Cheloye Penwell, community service director for the Spokane Valley Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called Catholic Charities in early June asking how they could help with that group’s latest effort to build houses for homeless people.

The project, Pope Francis Haven, finished construction earlier in the summer and Catholic Charities was readying units for families to move in.

“I said, here’s what we don’t have. We don’t have mattresses and we don’t have bed frames,” said Monique Kolonko, Catholic Charities’ executive vice president of stabilization and housing.

Penwell decided she’d take care of it. The local stake applied for $50,200 through the church’s humanitarian fund in Salt Lake City. She got word the request had been approved one week ago, and found out the following day that the truck would be delivering the goods July 20.

“We had six days to put this together,” she said.

Some of the volunteers were young people participating as part of their time as missionaries for the Mormon church. Missionaries are expected to complete a significant amount of community service.

Sister Litchford, 20, who did not give her first name in keeping with LDS tradition for missionaries, said most of the community service work she does is more solitary. She liked the community aspect of outfitting the new apartments.

“It’s super fun,” she said.

The Pope Francis project, built for $10.2 million, will be the fourth apartment building Catholic Charities has opened in recent years for homeless people in Spokane. Two more projects are under construction or in the permitting process, Kolonko said.

Families will begin moving into the two- and three-bedroom units next week. Thirty-five have been approved so far, and Kolonko expects the units to be full by the end of summer.

This particular flavor of interfaith collaboration is fairly regular. The Valley’s Seventh-day Adventist church runs a 2-acre garden near the development to feed people in poverty, and Mormon missionaries regularly volunteer there.

Church members have been taking this season’s harvest, the first, to Catholic Charities in downtown Spokane for distribution. Rupert Salmon, who runs the church’s men’s ministry and the garden project, said the hope is to offer gardening classes for families in Pope Francis Haven and let them take the produce home in exchange for helping out.

“It’d be an opportunity for them to learn and give back,” he said.

Geoff Julian, president of the Spokane Valley Stake for the LDS church, said helping homeless families through humanitarian efforts is part of the church’s mission.

“It is set up to follow the message of our savior, Jesus Christ,” he said.

Penwell ran around the complex with a clipboard she’d carefully prepared, with boxes to check for each unit when the beds were carried in, then assembled. Her thoughts were interrupted half a dozen times by volunteers with questions about which units still needed what.

“I worked hard on these lists and they’re completely useless,” she laughed.

Helping vulnerable children is a passion of hers, she said.

“The most exciting part for me has been an opportunity to work across faith boundaries,” she said. “That was what I really wanted to do.”