It started with a pot of coffee and a plate of pastries during a few cold days. A decade later, the Neighbors in Need program has grown to offer the homeless and low-income of South Snohomish County a hot meal and basic support services.
Every Saturday, from 8:30-10:30 a.m., Neighbors in Need opens the doors of Lynnwood’s Trinity Lutheran Church to those who are homeless or with limited means and welcomes them with breakfast, a small bag of groceries provided by the Edmonds and Lynnwood food banks, donated clothing, resources to seek treatment for drug or alcohol addiction and more.
Lynnwood City Council Vice-President Christine Frizzell describes the program as a Band-Aid for those in need. The program is also a great start for those looking to volunteer with the homeless community, she said.
“The idea for Trinity is to be a place where homeless and low-income people can come and get services to get them through weekend,” she said.
The Neighbors in Need program is not strictly for people who are homeless. People who have homes, but not much else are still welcome, said Jason Dunbar, a board member of the Jean Kim Foundation.
“It’s mostly a combination of housing-unstable people or previously homeless who come for things like the food bank,” he said.
The volunteer-driven program partners with nine other churches and organizations. These include the Jean Kim Foundation, which promotes education access for homeless individuals; the Hand Up Project, which helps those who struggle with substance abuse get into rehab; Lifelong, a Seattle-based organization that will offer free HIV testing once a month; and Shower for the People, a mobile trailer equipped with two showers.
For more than a decade, Frank Fargo, founder of Shower for the People, has provided the homeless community in Snohomish County with a place to take a hot shower. Shower for the People also supplies people with travel-size toiletries, socks, underwear and T-shirts.
Shower for the People began in June 2007 when Fargo and his wife Louise partnered with their church, Cascade View Presbyterian, where they were already active volunteers. Fargo said he was inspired after reading Mike Yankoski’s book Under the Overpass, a story about a homeless college student who, at one point, had not showered in six weeks.
“He had no hot water, so it inspired me to put out a survey during meals and see if anyone would be interested in it,” he said.
The five-wheel trailer is the second the organization has used since Shower for the People began, and includes tankless water heaters for both showers and a redundant system for backup that Fargo installed himself. Though the organization has been a success and provided showers for thousands of people, Fargo said there was some initial concern about the safety of the project.
“The police did not really want us to do it; they thought I was going to get into trouble,” he said. “But a couple of them off to the side said, ‘Just do it.’”
Now, Showers for the People is a fixture at Trinity on Saturdays, providing showers for 30-40 homeless individuals every Saturday. Showers are also offered at Dinner at the Bell hosted by First Presbyterian Church in downtown Everett on Wednesdays. Anyone wishing to donate may bring travel-size toiletries on Saturdays to Trinity Lutheran Church, located at 6215 196th St. S.W., Lynnwood.
In addition to offering showers, WASHED provides laundry service for the homeless in Snohomish County. Created by The HOUSE Church Pastor D.J. Rabe and his friend Eric Hogan, WASHED is a self-sufficient mobile laundry-service unit equipped with two washers and two dryers.
Neighbors in Need has also begun offering a “listening table” to provide social interactions that people who are homeless are often denied, said Neighbors in Need board member Paula Brooks. People who come to the listening table often need people to hear their concerns, stories and goals — or simply find someone to touch them respectfully, she said.
“They get totally ignored, because we don’t want to see them,” Brooks said. “They’re people who need somebody to hear them.”
One of the hardest stories she heard was a young man that Brooks said wanted to pray and thank God that he was able to make money selling drugs so he no longer had to prostitute his wife.
“It’s being there for some individuals who just have no other human being to be with,” she said.
Joan Jolly, a Neighbors in Need board member who has been with the organization for eight years, said the program owes a lot of its success to its location at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood. At Trinity, Neighbors in Need was conveniently placed for other organizations to reach out and help, she said.
“It’s was totally organic, it just grew all by itself,” she said.
Though the Neighbors in Need program has come a long way, Jolly said the program’s goal is to continue to grow by seeking other community partners that want to assist those in the community who are homeless or low-income.
“The more we know about each other, the more resources we have to offer,” she said.
Anyone who wishes to donate to Neighbors in Need or volunteer may do so by visiting their website here and clicking the “Saturday Morning” drop box across the top of the page.
–Story and photos by Cody Sexton