Although food isn’t one of the explicit “unalienable rights” guaranteed by our US Constitution, you certainly can’t be delivered “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” without having enough food. Unfortunately, there are many families and individuals on the Peninsula who are suffering on this count.
Fortunately, and in the typical Peninsula taking-care-of-our-own style, there are many groups dedicated to feeding community members who can’t always put good food on their tables. One of these groups is a coalition organized by the Ocean Park Lutheran Church and operating under the name “Community Table.” (Church information can be found online here: oceanparklutheran.org as well as on Facebook: tinyurl.com/OPLutheranChurch.)
I met with the devoted leaders of the Community Table at the church this past Monday afternoon. They had just finished serving 121 meals to many of our neighbors — some in-house and some that went out for delivery — and had assembled to share their stories with me.
The leadership team for this effort is Anne Anderson (volunteer coordinator), Mike and Sidsel (secretary) Tompkins, Ron (president) and Mary Hollis (treasurer), Cliff Pedersen (vice president) and John Vale (senior center coordinator). And though they would never say this about themselves, they all seemed to me to have angel wings hidden under their sweaters and jackets. They were brimming over with tales of the wonderful people they work with and the beautiful and needy folks they help every week.
The Community Table, which is a spin-off from His Supper Table, provides over 6,500 warm meals every Monday lunch. People who can come in to the church eat there, but because the Lutheran Church is off the main public transportation route, many folks cannot physically make it in. For those people, Ken Johnson picks up lunches and delivers them in his ’08 Silverado pickup or his SUV (as he says, “whichever suits the weather better”), something he has been doing since 1998!
Ken says, “When I get to some of these houses I deliver to, the children are waiting and take those meals right out of my hands and sit down to eat.” I had a chance to look over Ken’s notes for deliveries and found things like, “amputee, house in front, no cookies,” or “next to Air Stream, three meals, plus dog treats,” or “deliver to Aunt, next door left, if not home,” or simply “in boat.”
The Community Table is a simple name for an effort that is an extremely well-oiled machine. It’s a system that runs not only on the donations from a vast array of community businesses, individuals and organizations, but it also includes volunteers putting in over 500 hours of labor. I wish I could name everyone here who contributes to this effort — it would be a veritable who’s who of Peninsula giving. Suffice it to say that probably a hundred or more people work together to make Community Table function.
First of all, there are seven teams of people who do the cooking. Each team is made up of a “head chef” — who organizes the meal preparation at the church’s certified kitchen — and four or five other helpers who wash, peel, chop, grate, stir, fry, boil or otherwise perform sous chef duties. These meals get sorted and packaged and are handed off to the delivery teams.
Each team has a specialty meal that they prepare and these include chili and cornbread, meatloaf, taco salad, Polynesian chicken, spaghetti, Italian meatballs or Spanish rice. Every meal has a nourishing main dish, fresh fruit and a cookie. But before all this cooking can take place, supplies need to be purchased and transported to the kitchen, packed away and organized. The delivery schedule may need adjusting. Packaging must be procured. The budget needs to be computed. There are a thousand details to monitor and keep in order.
Community Table has expanded every year because the need has grown, and this has meant fundraising efforts need to be increased. Local businesses have become a critical part of this food delivery program. Okie’s Thriftway donates the ingredients for the chili meal that Dwayne Smallwood prepares. Bank of the Pacific and Great Northwest Federal Credit Union have given generously to the program. The Peninsula Senior Activity Center, as well as sponsoring a food prep team, has hosted their third annual Spaghetti Dinner with proceeds going to Community Table. Empty Bowls, Peninsula Moose Lodge and Beach Barons all give funds. And some direct grants have also been received from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Tuw H M Zahl Charitable Foundation. Fundraising is an on-going process.
Because food prices continue to rise and the number of people requesting meals has continued to grow, the leaders of Community Table are instituting a new fundraising idea for April. At various businesses, banks and other community gathering places, you will notice big white buckets on the counters. If you’d like to support this worthwhile effort, stuff in a little cash — even small amounts help — or write a check to “Community Table.” These funds will go directly for food purchases and will ensure that as the need for meals rises Community Table can keep up. Just this past year, they had to expand their food budget from $7,500 to $10,000 to meet the demand.
They are also hoping to interest a few more people in either joining or organizing a team of meal preparers. Their effort has already grown from four teams to seven. But a few more teams means that the work gets spread out to more people. Right now the Baptist and Methodist churches sponsor teams, adding to those from the Lutheran church, as well as one from the Peninsula Senior Activity Center. If anyone is interested in joining a team, or organizing a team of their own, please leave a message at the church 665-6344 — or call volunteer director Anne Andersen for more information, 360-751-1225.
The teams pride themselves on preparing nutritious and tasty meals; many of the team chefs actually have professional training, although that is certainly not a prerequisite, though all team members must have their food handler permits.
I am constantly being reminded how many of the best efforts on our Peninsula operate with volunteer labor; and looking backstage at the workings on the Community Table has reconfirmed that. This group of dedicated citizens has created, quietly and without a lot of fanfare, an elaborate and efficiently running system. As Mary Hollis points out, “It doesn’t feel like work at all — though we spend hours at this — because the central cog in the wheel is the heart of everybody. We want to serve. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Well said and well done. And everyone who needs is welcomed — no questions asked. The Community Table is open every Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Ocean Beach Lutheran Church, 22002 ‘U’ Street.