Helping the homeless
Cedar Mill Bible Church sets The Jesus Table to feed hungry neighbors on Tuesday nights
Cedar Mill Bible Church launched a new ministry in the New Year - one that offers a warm meal and fellowship to anyone with a need.
On Tuesday night, the church at 12208 N.W. Cornell Road opened its doors and invited the community to enjoy a nutritious meal at The Jesus Table.
A devoted team of volunteers served 12 guests on their opening night as a new benevolent meal site with a snazzy, new certified kitchen.
'We were prepared for 50, since we had no idea how many would actually come,' said Carol Marshall, a member of the church and one of the volunteers who worked to get the community service program up and running. 'Everything went great.
'The dinner was good. I think the guests felt welcomed and comfortable - mostly they knew each other already.'
Seeing the remodeled kitchen bustling with activity as volunteers whipped up a hearty spaghetti dinner was a dream come true for The Jesus Table team.
'I think everybody involved is really pumped,' Marshall said. 'Volunteers don't really want to wait their turn to come back and help, which is a great thing for us.'
The anticipation for next Tuesday's meal at 6 p.m. is understandable, as the congregation spent the last couple years cooking up the idea to open a meal site.
'Two years ago we started dreaming,' Marshall recalled.
Members of Cedar Mill Bible Church have volunteered their time with Blanket Coverage in downtown Portland for more than 25 years. Blanket Coverage is a ministry focused on providing blankets, clothing and food to the downtown homeless population.
'We would make soup, cornbread and sandwiches every Monday night to feed the hungry in downtown,' Marshall said.
Wanting to help closer to home, the church a couple years ago also started operating a food pantry, which provides food to 80 people on a given week.
The Rock Creek resident is well aware of the growing homeless population in Washington County. Marshall works for the Beaverton School District in the superintendent's office and communications and community involvement department.
Since the beginning of the school year, the district has documented 1,163 homeless students, 306 of those are homeless, unaccompanied youth living without a parent of legal guardian. As of Dec. 6, the district had 211 more homeless students from the same date last year and 110 more homeless, unaccompanied youth attending local schools.
'The need in the community is growing and getting worse,' added Doug Marshall, Carol's husband. 'There is more need now than there was two years ago.'
Families and individuals alike are struggling to make ends meet, he said.
In January 2010, the church held a series of Sunday classes on helping the poor.
'We realized our efforts were pretty focused in downtown Portland,' Carol Marshall said. 'Some of us, at the end wondered, why couldn't we do something out here?'
Six members started checking in with Washington County officials to see what it would take to upgrade the church's kitchen and gain the certification needed to begin serving meals. Realizing the kitchen would need a major overhaul; they also launched an ambitious fundraising effort that netted $80,000 in congregation donations.
'The donations started coming in, and our church made it happen,' a thankful Marshall said.
Last summer, Cedar Hills resident Rich Berry and other members of the church began the kitchen transformation, installing new stainless steel counters, three compartment sinks, floor drains, a grease trap, hand-washing station, flooring, lighting and all new appliances including a commercial range and stove, ice machine, supply room freezer, refrigerator and warming ovens.
The project also secured a $10,000 social service grant from the city of Beaverton, which provided seed money to help with startup costs and supplies, said David Avery, a Cedar Mill resident who serves as an elder for the church.
'It's exciting to be at this point,' Avery said.
'It really is,' Carol Marshall added. 'To see the support we have received is really phenomenal. The church is really behind this effort. We're over-the-top excited.'
'Be a friend'
The next step in the mission is to get the word out.
Within the year, volunteers hope to serve more than 100 people on Tuesday nights at The Jesus Table, Doug Marshall said.
'Our tag line is feeding and caring for our neighbors, and that is exactly what we want to do,' he said. 'There is no screening - anyone who comes will be fed. There are no requirements and no questions asked.
'We're hoping it's more than just a place to get a meal.'
His wife agreed. 'We just want to love them,' she said of the people who stop in.
'From the start of our vision, we would think about a single mom with two or three children,' Carol Marshall recalled. 'She has a job, maybe two, and is working hard to make ends meet. She's exhausted when she gets home. She's barely hanging on.
'We want her to know on Tuesday nights, she can come here, get a free meal and have some adult conversation. It's not just her anymore. There are people willing to support and help her and be her friend.'
The group purposely picked Tuesday nights to offer a meal as the church hosts a Celebrate Recovery program that evening. The program offers those with addiction issues a safe place to heal and freedom from their hurts, habits and hang-ups.
In time, The Jesus Table may offer additional services and access to resources for its guests by inviting nonprofit agencies and other service groups to come in, provide information and be available to answer questions. Down the line, teens in the congregation could also be invited to volunteer their time to tutor or play games with the children who come in for dinner.
'We are willing to expand our vision,' Carol Marshall said. 'Part of the dream is to get to know the people around the table, learn about their situation and see how we might be able to help. We want to establish relationships and let them know they are not alone.'