SHELTON – When Vern Harris found out in 2016 that his community’s only free breakfast program was ending, he came up with a “crazy idea.”
Harris, a member of St. Edward Parish in Shelton, went to Father Ronald Belisle (who was pastor at the time) and asked if the parish could financially support serving a simple breakfast two or three days a week.
“Father Belisle said, ‘Absolutely,’” Harris recalled.
Harris had never organized such a project, but “I really feel like the Holy Spirit moved me to do it,” he said.
When it began, the Breakfast Program served 10 to 15 people three days a week at The Saints’ Pantry Food Bank in Shelton. Now some 40 to 50 people eat breakfast there five days a week, with nearly 3,400 people served through May of this year.
“We didn’t even need to advertise,” said Sheryl Sjobom, the food bank director. “If we are offering something people need, word gets out.”
As the program grew, so did its offerings. Program volunteers from St. Edward’s and the community hand out oatmeal and coffee, along with sacks containing a breakfast bar and a hardboiled egg — and fruit and a bagel when those are available, Harris said.
Monday through Friday, the volunteers arrive at 7 a.m. to prep the bags and make coffee. Breakfast is distributed from 8 to 9 a.m. With no room inside the food bank for dining, people must eat outside or take their food “to go.”
“It could be snowing or raining, and the homeless are out there in the elements,” Sjobom said. “But they are grateful for the hot meal.”
Harris and his wife Sandy coordinate the program. They have a pool of 13 volunteers to help serve breakfast, while parishioners lend a hand in boiling 15 to 20 dozen eggs each weekend.
“I have a lot of great help,” Harris said. “That it’s grown so large is the Lord’s work. That’s something I can’t take any credit for.”
Vern and Sandy Harris get ready to serve breakfast at The Saints’ Pantry Food Bank in Shelton. The program is funded by their parish, St. Edward in Shelton, and feeds an average of 700 people per month. Photo: Courtesy The Saints’ Pantry Food Bank
This year, the breakfast program received a Rice Bowl grant from the Archdiocese of Seattle. Donations for the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl program are collected by parishes and schools during Lent, with 25 percent of donations staying in the archdiocese to benefit local programs.
The breakfast program also relies on donations, like a recent fundraising breakfast at St. Edward’s that was sponsored by the parish’s confirmation students.
The kids were motivated to help after Harris spoke to their class about the program, said Mary Chapman, St. Edward’s pastoral associate for faith formation. The April 29 breakfast raised $1,300, with 25 young people participating in the effort.
“I’m so proud of my teens that they stepped up and said, ‘This is what we’re called to,’” Chapman said. “They were such an inspiration.”
The breakfast program has challenges, but is filling a need in the community, said J.T. Batstone, a St. Edward parishioner who is the food bank’s treasurer.
“As our homeless population continues to grow,” she said, “being present to those who are vulnerable is a part of our discipleship. I wish we could do more.”