Nightly dinner is a chance for a good meal, talk

August 16, 2011

By Tom Corrigan

“You better watch him, he’s homeless,” a visitor called out from the other side of the Issaquah Community Hall on Sunset Way.

Starlene Tant and husband Michael Tant join volunteers Sylvia Mason and Diana Brown (from left) helping out in the kitchen and on the serving line during a recent free dinner offered by Catholic Community Services in Issaquah. By Tom Corrigan

The target of the jibe just laughed as he talked with a reporter, knowing that both and he and his would-be tormentor are indeed homeless.

They both also were tabbed as regulars at the free meals at the hall by Catholic Community Services.

Volunteers serve up the dinners at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at 180 E. Sunset Way.

“I come mostly for the camaraderie,” said the visitor, who declined to give his name.

He said he’d been coming to the community hall for almost a year and knew quite a few of the other regulars among the visitors and the program volunteers.

Adria Briehl is a volunteer coordinator for the Seattle-based CCS and director of the local meal program. CCS began offering the dinners in 1989, but the program is still not very well known, Briehl said.

The meals are offered to anyone who shows up, no questions asked. Visitors usually number about 30 each evening. Many clients are homeless, but Briehl said she also sees plenty of seniors and others just looking to help make ends meet.

“A lot of people don’t think there’s homelessness in Issaquah,” Briehl said. “It just looks different than it does in Seattle.”

According to Briehl, many local homeless people stay in the natural areas around Issaquah, in the lower portions of the area’s three mountainsides. In fact, several visitors to the community hall on this night talked about camping out in the Cascade foothills.

In addition to regular visitors, the program also has a number of regular volunteers. Sylvia Mason said she been helping with the meals for more than eight years, until recently spending five nights a week at the community hall.

“I come here to volunteer and to help with my food budget,” Mason said. “If I had to buy groceries, I wouldn’t be able to drive a car. This really helps me out a lot.”

Briehl and Mason said a local church or community organization provides each day’s meal. The city of Issaquah donates money toward supplies, such as paper plates and napkins.

On this night, volunteers from Issaquah’s Soma Communities come and go, dropping off whole roasted chickens, mashed potatoes, vegetables, rice, salad and desert. A few stick around to put out the food and serve it.

“We’ve all been through hard times before,” said Gail Kurpgeweit, as she carved up the chicken for serving.

Thanks to what Briehl described as major donations from the Rotary Club of Issaquah and the Sammamish Presbyterian Church, plans are in the works for a major renovation of the hall’s smallish kitchen. Briehl said the work would include new cabinets and, most importantly to volunteers, a commercial dishwasher.

“That will be very welcome,” Briehl added.

The dining area itself resembles a small café or restaurant. And there’s a good reason for that. A woman who used to run a local restaurant, Mason said, donated tables and chairs.

Briehl and others said any leftovers usually are handed out to visitors to take with them. On this particular night, there is nothing left to hand out. Kurpgeweit said after the meal is over, the volunteers will spend about a half-hour cleaning up. Briehl said she is never hurting for help, that volunteers easily can see how much aid they are providing.

“It provides immediate results: hungry, full,” she said.

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