Volunteering full time: St.Luke’s volunteers have fed the Ballard homeless for 23 years

Even in March the Seattle winters are still very cold, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church provides a warm haven for homeless people around the Ballard area to eat, rest and hide from the rain.

Five days a week, Meals at St. Luke’s offers free meals and coffee served by three cheery, gray-haired ladies bustling around in brightly colored aprons.

Clocking in around 7:30 a.m., Nancy Rogers, 79, sets up for the day’s meal and preps for the afternoon rush. At 10:30, she leads her group of volunteers and early arrivers in prayer before serving the food she spent the morning baking and seasoning.

For 23 years, Rogers has been dicing vegetables and plating desserts at St. Luke’s. She started Meals at St. Luke’s, then called Lunchtime at St. Luke’s, with six other women in her prayer group. They believed they were not doing enough to service the community and sought to do more.

“We decided that we wanted to do something more than just pray and read the Bible,” Rogers said. “So we decided to have a feeding program.”

There are now 25 volunteers who alternate shifts Monday through Friday. With food donated by Food Lifeline, Top Banana and the Ballard Market, they are able to make full breakfasts and lunches including dishes like potato hashes, spaghetti and meat sauce and even boiled bok choy for their hungry guests.

Sylvia Li, 77, has volunteered at St. Luke’s for over 12 years, making her one of the senior members of the feeding program. She was gardening across the street when she was invited to a parish lunch at the church. There, she met Rogers who asked her to help sort rotten grapes from ripened ones.

Li was asked to return a few weeks afterward and soon was recruited to become a regular volunteer. She now assists Rogers in most of her duties – organizing meals, sweeping floors and creating an atmosphere that everyone can enjoy.

“I appreciate being part of a church that is doing so much,” said Li. “In just a couple of years, we have a communal garden, we have a shelter and we have a wonderful health center. It’s exciting to be a part of so much.”

St. Luke’s has expanded its facilities to include a share shelter, working with Victory Outreach, an international Christian ministry, to provide overnight housing for the homeless people.

The P-Patch garden planted behind the church is a new addition to the grounds. After only a year since it was opened, it now hosts 28 gardens for the community’s use.

The church has also recently started to implement a Neighborcare Health clinic onsite, which provides primary care to low-income and uninsured families.

“Those are the things we’re excited about now. We wanted to give them more services than just feeding them a meal,” said Rogers.

Though some refrigerators are on the fritz, and boxes are stacked on top of freezers to keep them shut, Rogers and the other helpers use what equipment they can get through donations and just continue to do their part for the community without much complaint.

“We like the camaraderie and we kind of think it’s fun,” she said. “And we like the people we serve, too. You kind of don’t think about it. You just do it.”

Susan Young, 64, has been working with Rogers for the past two years. Though she’s the “baby” at St. Luke’s being the youngest of the group, her contribution to the program has made a huge impact on the community.

Practicing the golden rule every day, Young says she treats everyone with nothing less than courtesy, dignity, honor and respect, knowing she will receive the same sincerity in return.

“What I’ve learned is that people may be homeless, but they’re just exactly like you and me,” Young said. “They’re just people down on their luck, having a bad time and they need a place to be. They need a sense of community and some place they feel accepted and loved.”

While these ladies may crack a few joke about their age, they all realize there is nothing else they’d rather be doing with their free time. And the years they have spent providing services for the homeless is a feat not many others their age can accomplish.

“At 77, I can still stand on my feet,” Li said. “We don’t want to stay at home and do nothing – We don’t want to play golf or play cards. And sometimes it’s hard and all of us groan. But it’s just endurance for a cause.”

Learn more about St. Lukes’ at http://stlukesseattle.org/

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