Ty Swenson
A volunteer hands over a hot Italian meal to one of West Seattle's homeless at the Skate Church on June 28. The meal is part of a multifaceted service provided by a collaboration of area churches and the West Seattle Food Bank. PLEASE CLICK THE IMAGE OR SEE BELOW THE STORY FOR MORE.

Faith collaboration provides a moment of respite for West Seattle’s homeless

Every Friday at high noon, the Skate Church of West Seattle (located in the basement of the Baptist Church at 4157 California Ave. S.W.) opens their doors to the homeless of West Seattle in what has become an ever-expanding experiment of churches and non-profits working together to provide those in need with a number of services.

In what started as a simple collaboration between Skate Church and the West Seattle Food Bank to provide a pick-up point for donated food, nowadays the Friday event includes a free hot meal, a free thrift store and connection to free laundry and shower services. It is ran by a volunteers from several area churches that have taken to recently calling themselves the Westside Interfaith Network.

“The Friday food bank is very interesting as its growing, thriving, and becoming a centerpiece for our community in addressing the needs of the homeless community in West Seattle,” Serena Wastman, senior pastor for Skate Church/The Journey said during a tour of the one-stop shop. Wastman is a retired Microsoft employee who devotes much of her time to the coordination of these services in addition to pastor duties.

The basement is broken up into three distinct sections for the Friday event. One holds a table brimming with food donated to the West Seattle Food Bank and brought over every Friday by the bank’s Operations Director, Steven Curry.

“We provide food for 900 families, sometimes, 9,500 individuals a month and this is a way we can provide assistance to people who are working with our most vulnerable folks,” Curry said. With a staff of five, the Food Bank needs help from others like Skate Church to reach the needy with food in different geographic locations around West Seattle.

“We make sure there are high levels of protein and fruits and vegetables and desserts,” he said. “It’s kind of the full meal deal that we provide every Friday.”

Continuing on, the next room is absolutely packed with donated clothes – a free thrift shop. Skate Church volunteer Kelsey Boblenz was busy on June 28 connecting her customers with sizes and styles that worked. With temperatures swelling well past the 80 mark that day, only the coats were left alone.

Shopping bags bulged as at least 20 of West Seattle’s homeless prepared for the coming week. One last stop, however, as a hearty Italian meal of meatballs, marinara and pasta with a side of garlic bread was being served by volunteers in the final room. The cool temperatures of the basement paired well with the warm plate. Each Friday, volunteers from Skate Church and other denominations gather for an “Iron Chef” like challenge, where they assess what comes in from the food bank and create their hot meal on the fly from there.

As the homeless enjoy their meal, they connect with volunteers for laundry and shower vouchers and recommendations on other services. Wastman said the coalition is learning more and more about what services are out there so they can better help their clients on these Fridays of contact. To that end, the Westside Interfaith Network recently met with a number of city councilmembers to gain an understanding of what the city is doing for the homeless, and where faith groups can step in to help fill the gaps.

Courtney Kirkendall is a West Seattleite who has been homeless “off and on” for the past several years. Right now is an off time, and she usually finds a place to sleep at Lincoln Park.

“It’s really important to me,” Kirkendall said of the Friday service. “If I didn’t have this, sometimes I probably wouldn’t eat very well.”

She has also started joining Skate Church for bible study on occasion.

“I think it’s changed a lot of people’s lives,” said Kirkendall. “It’s certainly changed my life for the better. I can come to church and not feel like an outcast.”

The church was started six years ago by a group of West Seattle teens “who didn’t fit into the standard church” (as Wastman put it), so they formed their own youth ministry that holds bible studies most evenings all around West Seattle, often times combining a little skateboarding with celebration of their God and planning of community service. “The Journey” is essentially Skate Church for the older members, Wastman said.

Krystal Moulton, now 23 and studying to be a firefighter/EMT, was a founding member of Skate Church when she was sixteen.

“We had a big group of friends who used to go to a youth group, but I think we really felt called to make a difference in West Seattle and do something bigger,” she said. “We really wanted to minister to a lot of the younger kids and bring them up and teach them about God and teach them how to serve their community and be part of a bigger picture.”

Moulton said she is impressed with the “evolution” of the Friday food bank, from simply a place to pick up canned goods three years ago to the multi-faceted service it has become today. She gave credit to Wastman for creating a place “where people can come off the street and sit down for a moment and breathe and eat.”

“I think it’s a necessity,” she said of helping the needy. “There are so many people who are less fortunate than us … even though I’m young and kind of a poor college student I think it’s incredibly important to help people who may not have as much as I do and give back to them in any way I possibly can.”

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