In tough times, volunteers offer the needy a free meal

June 9, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Don Long serves himself lunch provided by friends and neighbors who come to the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank every Thursday to supply free meals. By Adam Eschbach

Don Long serves himself lunch provided by friends and neighbors who come to the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank every Thursday to supply free meals. By Adam Eschbach

They say nothing comes free, but in Issaquah that’s not the case for a good lunch. 

Every Thursday at noon, card tables are quickly set up and a smorgasbord of food is splayed. Sandwiches, soups, pastries, fruits and drinks are crammed onto tables as patrons of the Issaquah Food and Clothing Bank wait patiently to dig in. 

“It’s really cool that the community reaches out to people in need here,” said a woman in line in her mid-30s. (The woman said she didn’t want to be named, because she lives in the area and has a teen daughter.) “I’m really appreciative.”

The free lunch is thanks to a handful of local friends and volunteers. 

“It’s meant to share a meal, share food. It’s something so easy to do,” said Marilyn Ottinger, an organizer. “And now, wow. We have all these new friends with us.”

“It’s nice that there’s help when you’re financially strapped, and this is nice, freshly prepared food,” the woman in line, a former corporate trainer, said. She said she never thought she’d need assistance from the community, but is glad Issaquah is such a caring place. 

“In the past three years, I’ve fallen on some hard times,” she said.

The idea for serving free lunch at the food bank came from a Wednesday morning bible study about the gospel of John, hosted a few blocks away. Several members, like Ottinger, are also volunteers at the food bank.

“I started volunteering at the food bank last year and I’d see the line up way before it opened,” she said. “I thought, ‘How easy would it be to provide lunch?’

“Then, I thought of the gospel of John and in it, it says, ‘The poor are always with you.’ I realized ‘with you’ didn’t mean they’d always be poor, but they are with us to help.”

The group started serving in October and has been carrying on the tradition every Thursday since.

“We’re just neighbors helping people,” said Wes Howard-Brook, another organizer of the group and the bible study. 

“There are many people from the group who donate, but only a few of us serve on a rotating basis,” said volunteer Phyllis Johnson. 

While dishing up delectable lunchtime treats, like clam chowder, chili, macaroni and cheese, ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches, yogurt, fresh fruit, cookies and pastries from Panera Bread Co. and recently ice cream sundaes, the group has become a hit with several people. 

“I go to the dinners at the fire station across from here,” said one man standing in line, referring to the Catholic services dinners at Issaquah Community Services. “That’s how I found out about this.” 

“The food bank has mostly canned goods, which are great, but this is mostly fresh food,” said another man in line. 

Since children have been coming as well, the group has expanded its options, providing hard-boiled eggs, more sandwiches and string cheese, all of which have lots of protein, Ottinger said.

At the group’s busiest, the members will feed nearly 100 men, women and children who come to the food and clothing bank. 

“People in Issaquah are so giving. They just have to be invited,” Ottinger said. “It’s lunch. Why wouldn’t you share lunch? If someone didn’t have a sandwich, you’d give them half of yours.”

But the group is looking for help and hoping its efforts will inspire others to break bread with those in the community who are less fortunate.

“We don’t want to limit it because there are many people that might want to do this and they don’t have to be of any particular religion,” Howard-Brook said.

“It’s so easy to say, ‘They don’t deserve it or they’re lazy or I work harder than they do,’” Ottinger said. “But until we’re face to face, we don’t realize how we really are all the same. I want people to see how easy it is to create a great spirit, and how being part of this experience can reduce the differences between us.”

How to help

E-mail Marilyn Ottinger at or Wes Howard-Brook at

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2 Responses to “In tough times, volunteers offer the needy a free meal”

  1. Shanti on June 10th, 2009 2:53 pm

    This is such a beautiful story! I would love to help in anyway that I can. Please let me know how I can Volunteer!


  2. Wes Howard-Brook on June 10th, 2009 10:21 pm

    Shanti, just grab a group of friends and pick a day! We’d love to have you come see what we do any Thursday at 11.45-1 p.m., but of course, you are free to do it your own way. The folks would love to have people serve lunch every day of the week if we can get enough volunteers.

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