For more than 30 years, volunteers of the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network have spent every Thursday night providing a home-cooked meal for the homeless community.
Dinner was always made fresh just hours before their arrival and served to guests — “we always call them guests,” said volunteer Diana Davis — on glass plates with placemats and silverware.
On Aug. 27, the last supper was served.
Organized and fully provided by the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network and hosted at Calvary Lutheran Church, the year-round Thursday Night Community Supper has allowed a safe and reliable space for homeless people to enjoy a hot meal, socialize and pick up necessity items.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the FWCCN to rethink their typical dinner service. For the last several months, volunteers have cooked a meal and pre-packaged the food for easier grab-and-go distribution because inside dining was no longer safe.
The program is coming to an end in part due to a lack of volunteers. Many are in their 70s and 80s, and the risk of volunteering during a pandemic is too much of a threat, several volunteers said. While the program does a lot of good for the community, additional unintended consequences have taken a toll on the area and church grounds, such as frequent break-ins and thefts.
Each weekly meal requires the creation of a menu, making a shopping list, picking up groceries and more, said Debra Mastrobattisto, the FWCCN volunteer coordinator for the past four years.
“It’s a lot of stuff,” she said. “It’s actually more than just one day.”
Mastrobattisto, a talkative people-person, recalls one of her favorite memories from the suppers. A man named Dave, who has several types of cancer and is still alive today, once hugged her and “he said I was the reason he kept coming every week,” she said, tearing up. “That really meant a lot to me.”
Serving an average 75 meals per week, and sometimes up to 100 meals, the dinners include coffee and other beverages, appetizers, and sweet treats.
“We kind of made it into a real big deal,” she said. “I felt like when they came in here, I wanted them to have choices so they could feel like they were in a restaurant.”
Volunteers know their guests on a first name basis as most are regular attendees. The heartbreaking part is when a guest stops coming and “you always wonder what happened to them,” said volunteer Margaret Windom, adding that because of the program, Thursdays are her favorite day of the week.
Greeting the diverse crowd on the final Thursday evening, one volunteer offers her condolences to a homeless woman after learning her dog had died. Another volunteer hands a pre-packaged meal to a man and says “here you go, my friend.”
The socialization opportunity was important for both the volunteers and the guests. Along with helping those in need, several volunteers said the camaraderie among the volunteers is what brought them back each week.
In addition to hot meals and familiar faces, the Federal Way Community Caregiving Network also offered a SOS (Supper Outreach Services) Program table at the Community Supper each week. People can take items such as toilet paper, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, extra socks, shirts and more.
Forced to switch to takeout dinners, it took the volunteers twice as long to get meals ready and also increased the cost to pay for Ziploc bags and food containers necessary for takeout.
At times when the volunteer numbers hit an ultimate low, there were only three people in the kitchen making all 75-plus meals. Volunteer teams used to rotate weeks, but now there is one core team in charge of the entire program.
But, the volunteers say they will miss the program until it can start up again when in-person dining is safe, and possibly at a new location.
“It filled a need in a lot of people’s hearts,” said volunteer Randy Baeth. “It’s really difficult to take something away that’s helping the community.”
Lunches served by FWCCN at Calvary Lutheran Church will continue from 11-1 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Lunch is also provided at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 345 S. 312th St., on Saturdays and dinner at Christian Faith church, 33645 20th Ave. S., on Monday nights.