Brewing up help for the needy

  • Written by Brian LeBlanc
  • Published in Local
Travelers at the Toutle River rest area on Interstate 5 recently were welcome to free coffee and goodies, but many left a donation for the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Francis Xavier Mission in Toledo. Photo: Linda Sabin Travelers at the Toutle River rest area on Interstate 5 recently were welcome to free coffee and goodies, but many left a donation for the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Francis Xavier Mission in Toledo. Photo: Linda Sabin

Donations from travelers at I-5 rest area boost the budget of local St. Vincent de Paul conference

coffee stop
Tom O’Connell of St. Francis Xavier Mission serves coffee to a traveler at the Toutle River rest area on Interstate 5 in July. O’Connell is president of the church’s St. Vincent de Paul organization. Photo: Linda Sabin

TOLEDO - Sometimes all it takes to help neighbors in need is coffee, cookies and a little conversation.

That’s what members of the St. Vincent de Paul conference at St. Francis Xavier Mission in Toledo have found in eight years of providing free refreshments to travelers at the Toutle River southbound rest area on Interstate 5.

Many travelers leave a donation and “when we tell them that 99 percent of all donations go back to helping people, people are impressed with the St. Vincent de Paul story and want to know more,” said Jim Luque, who has coordinated the effort with his wife, Jean, since 2006. “If they’re Catholic, they go back to their parish” and talk about it, he said. If they aren’t, “it helps spread the word, and that’s a good thing.”

On a good day, the St. Francis Xavier Vincentians can take in $150 to $200 during a 12-hour shift, Jim Luque said. When the group staffed the southbound Toutle River stand July 21-25, the members raised over $1,200. That one week a year provides a boost to the conference’s $20,000 annual budget. (The rest of the budget comes from donations made by the 136 households of St. Francis Xavier Mission and the 18 members of the church’s conference.)

The Free Coffee Program, as it’s officially known, is coordinated by the Washington State Department of Transportation. Nonprofit organizations can apply to staff the refreshment stands at high-volume rest areas. Volunteer groups must provide the coffee, goodies and any other necessary supplies. At St. Francis Xavier, “the people of the parish have been generous with their donations” of goods for the stand, Luque said.

Coffee stop group
St. Francis Xavier Vincentians Tom O’Connell, left, Jim Luque, Jean Luque and Vickie O’Connell helped staff the refreshment stand at the Toutle River rest area on Interstate 5 in July. Donations from the stand benefit their church’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul conference. Photo: Linda Sabin

The money raised at the Toutle River rest area helps the Vincentians carry out their lay ministry of helping neighbors in Toledo, Vader and more rural areas in western Lewis County. Like other parish-based St. Vincent de Paul conferences, they provide direct assistance to anyone who asks. Members visit people at home, learn about their circumstances and help them get the assistance they need.

Each year, at least 250 individuals and families are helped through the efforts of the Vincentians at St. Francis Xavier. “We’re a small conference but we help out so many people,” Luque said.

Staff a rest area
Through the state’s Free Coffee Program, nonprofit organizations can apply to host the refreshment booth at high-volume rest areas in Western Washington, most are along Interstate 5.

“It’s relatively easy, but the hard part has been making sure you have enough manpower,” said Jim Luque of St. Francis Xavier Mission in Toledo.

For more details, visit the state Department of Transportation site.