KENT – For six months every year, members of Holy Spirit Parish bring meals to the parish hall for their guests — up to 15 homeless women who spend the night there.
It’s part of a Catholic Community Services of Western Washington initiative: Women’s Homeless Outreach Mobilization Project (WHOME, pronounced with a silent W).
“Holy Spirit does an awesome job in hosting us,” said Shervin McCammon, a CCS program supervisor for the South King County Shelter Team. “This space is greatly appreciated. It makes a big difference in [the women’s] lives.”
Women hosted by the parish have ranged in age from 18 to 80, said Brenda Fincher, Holy Spirit’s pastoral assistant for administration, who also volunteers to organize and oversee the WHOME program at the parish.
“I visit the shelter many nights talking with the [women] and staff,” Fincher said in an email.
Holy Spirit, located in downtown Kent, has partnered with CCS on the women’s shelter since 2012. Every April through September, the parish hall is a place for the women to sleep, take a shower, wash their clothes and get something to eat. CCS provides an overnight site supervisor as well as a caseworker to help the women access the resources they need.
“The goal is to get everyone transitioned out of homelessness,” McCammon said. In 2018, 14 women who stayed at the Holy Spirit shelter transitioned into housing, he said.
When Holy Spirit began hosting the CCS shelter in 2012, it served both men and women, Fincher said. After Father Raymond Cleaveland became priest administrator in 2015, he initiated a remodel of the hall’s bathrooms that added a sink, accessible showers and laundry facilities.
Hosting both the men’s shelter and the women’s shelter left only three or four months during the year that the hall could used for parish activities, Fincher said. So, in 2016, Holy Spirit began hosting just the women’s shelter.
Normally, Holy Spirit hosts the shelter for six months, and an Episcopal church in Federal Way hosts the other six months. This year, however, a lack of funds at CCS meant Holy Spirit’s WHOME shelter was closed during July and August, according to McCammon.
During that time, Fincher said, the women had to live outside or in their vehicles.
Right: The Mathison family are among parishioners of Holy Spirit Parish who cook and serve meals for women staying at the WHOME overnight shelter, hosted by the Kent parish every April through September. Photo: Courtesy Brenda Fincher, Holy Spirit Parish. Left: Women staying at the WHOME overnight shelter at Holy Spirit Parish enjoy dinner. Meals are provided by parishioners as well as restaurants and other churches in the Kent area. Photo: Courtesy Brenda Fincher, Holy Spirit Parish.
‘Jesus coming over for dinner’
When the shelter is open, volunteers (mostly parishioners) provide dinner every night, plus breakfast foods and sack lunches for the guests, who have to leave the shelter by 7 a.m.
Parishioner Kathy Lemke and a friend recently brought dinner for the women. Although the women serve themselves, the volunteers are available “if they feel the need to talk,” Lemke said. After recently moving and joining the parish, she was looking for an opportunity to help people. “It’s a very rewarding experience for me,” Lemke said.
Guadalupe “Lupita” Madrid, the parish’s pastoral assistant for Hispanic ministry, helps keep the parish’s Hispanic community informed about the shelter program and coordinate meal donations.
“It’s so good for our community because the whole community helps with something,” Madrid said.
Holy Spirit also partners with other area churches, groups, and restaurants to provide meals, Fincher said.
“The women are always so gracious and appreciative, no matter what it is,” Fincher said. “Luckily we’re a diverse parish, so they have a diverse menu.”
Father Cleaveland noted in an email that Fincher gets “all sorts of people to volunteer to serve the women, even people who are not parishioners. She convinced the mayor of Kent to cook dinner and on another occasion, the chief of police,” he said.
One widowed parishioner brings steak dinners for the women, continuing a custom that her husband started when the parish hosted both men and women, according to Fincher.
When asked by a site supervisor why the couple served steak, Fincher remembers the man replying: “‘What if I was having Jesus over for dinner — what would I serve?’ So each time, these people are Jesus coming over for dinner.”
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