Sonrise Church hopes other churches will cover other days

It was Jesus.

That was Bill’s explanation for the small Sunday-afternoon miracle.

He and Becki (who didn’t want their last names used) were shivering in Rogers Park, talking about how hungry they were. “Man, I wish I had something hot to eat,” Bill said.

Fifteen minutes later someone called out: “Hey, they’re serving lunch over at Sonrise Church.”

In minutes the homeless couple was eating turkey noodle soup with a side salad and mandarin-orange Jell-O cake.

“Oh, it was wonderful,” Bill said.

“It was awesome,” Becky said.

They were two of just six people who attended the first official community meal at Sonrise Church, which had prepared for as many as 50.

Sonrise is the second church to offer a free weekly community meal in Forest Grove or Cornelius, where last January the homeless population included 39 single adults, three couples, 11 one-parent and nine two-parent families with children, according to the annual homeless count coordinated by Community Action.

Undaunted by the small turnout, Sonrise will continue offering the meals every Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. And what’s more, said Pastor Rudy Tinoco, “I’m hoping other churches will want to be part of that and extend it out so we have every day of the week covered.”

That’s what happened in Newberg, a Forest Grove-sized city in Yamhill County. Since the first free meal at Newberg Christian Church in 2005, four other churches have joined the lineup — the last in November — so there is now a free community meal every weeknight. Crowds range from 60 to 250 diners. Janice Allen, a volunteer who started the first one, told the Newberg-Graphic recently that Newberg Christian chose to open the meal to everyone, from homeless people to bank managers to thrifty college students to tired moms with children in tow.

“We wanted people of all income brackets to come together,” Allen said.

The Sonrise meal is “definitely directed toward the homeless and the helpless but we’re not going to ask questions,” Tinoco said. “Whoever’s hungry can come.”

There’s no proselytizing, he said. “Absolutely not. I think our actions will speak louder than words as we put the teachings of Jesus to work, feeding the poor, helping those who need it most.”

The Forest Grove Assembly of God church offers a free meal every Friday evening.

It began five years ago as part of the church’s 12-step “Celebrate Recovery” program, which draws 150 to 200 people. From 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. participants get a free dinner before they break into groups to discuss their struggles with harmful habits and addictions.

A year of so ago, knowing it would get the church big discounts on food from the Oregon Food Bank, members decided to open the meal to the whole community, including referrals from the county's community corrections center, said Pastor Doug Timmons.

The change was not widely publicized because the church was going through a major remodel, Timmons said. “We didn’t want to just throw signs up immediately and get inundated with 500 people.”

The remodel finished last summer and the new commercial kitchen is up to the task of serving more people, Timmons said.

Sonrise, a nondenominational church which operates out of the former Tupper’s Furniture space along 19th Avenue in the mini-mall between Dollar Tree and Rainbow Lanes bowling alley, just opened its own commercial kitchen in October. Its trial run was a free Thanksgiving meal.

In that case, Tinoco gave flyers to a couple homeless guys he’d gotten to know and they passed the word on to their friends. Thirty people showed up.

For last Sunday’s meal, Serve Coordinator Amy Young alerted the liaison for homeless families with the Forest Grove School District. She also posted flyers and post cards around the community with the address and a map.

But that wasn’t enough for Bill and Becki, who thought it might help to have a big sign at the church itself. There was only a small “Sonrise Church” sign on at the entrance to the parking lot, with no mention of a meal.

Sonrise has time to improve its marketing — and to attract more host churches. Young sent an email to local pastors and said she’ll be meeting with Pastor Jennifer Yocum of the United Church of Christ next week to brainstorm ideas for future partnerships.

Partnerships already abound. If the UCC severe-weather shelter is open Friday nights, for example, Assembly of God provides the meal. Other churches help with other nights. Several Cornelius churches — Refuge, Real Life Community, Emanuel Lutheran, joined with Sonrise, the local Kiwanis club and Pacific University last summer to extend and expand the free summer lunch program for low-income students after it ended in early August, Tinoco said.

The churches all want to help meet the needs of hungry people, but Timmons knows the benefits of a community meal go both ways.

At his church, some of the people from the Recovery program are now helping in the kitchen, Timmons said. “They turn around and serve the community back. That’s a huge part of the recovery. You’ll know you’re in recovery when you’re thinking more about others than of yourself.”


Free Weekly Community Meals:

Fridays, 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. at Forest Grove Assembly of God, 1523 Pacific Ave. (across from Tom McCall Middle School)

Sundays, 1 to 3 p.m. at Sonrise Church in Forest Grove, 2835 19th Ave.

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