Tag Archives: Downtown Soup Kitchen

Anchorage Thanksgiving is cornucopia of community effort

This coming Thursday, Thanksgiving will be celebrated across the U.S. Our community goes out of its way to ensure everyone has a place at the table for a hearty and filling Thanksgiving meal. One way this is accomplished is through the local Thanksgiving Blessing, coordinated by the Food Bank of Alaska with the support of the local faith and nonprofit community. Over 8,000 families will be served in this year’s Thanksgiving Blessing in Anchorage, with an additional 2,000 in the Valley.

Thanksgiving meals, including turkey and all the fixings, will be distributed Monday, at six Anchorage locations. From 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. families in need can go to the following locations (based on zip codes; visit foodbankofalaska.org or call 211 for more information):

Crosspoint Church at the Burlington Coat Factory mall on Dimond Boulevard
New Season Christian Center at Spenard Recreation Center, 2020 West 48th Ave.
Central Lutheran Church, Cordova Street and 15th Avenue
St. Patrick’s Church, 2111 Muldoon Road
Joy Lutheran Church, 10111 E. Eagle River Loop Road
From noon to 8 p.m., Mountain View Community Center, 315 N. Price, off of Mountain View Drive

Mike Miller, executive director of Food Bank of Alaska, underscored the broad base of support, saying, “Each one of these partners is partnering with many other community organizations and churches to make this happen with money, commodities and volunteers. The entire Southcentral Alaska area pulls together to make this happen.”

This is in significant contrast to the manufactured buying frenzy that begins that day, and the next, Black Friday, with families plunging further into debt to supply gifts their kids and families do not really need, financed by firms all too ready to help satisfy consumers with credit, layaways and high-priced merchandise.

Local examples of stores bucking the trend to open on Thanksgiving are: Babies R Us, Cabela’s, Costco, Game Stop, H&M, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Nordstrom, Pier 1 Imports, Petco, REI, Sam’s Club, Staples and TrueValue. Additionally, REI has courageously decided employees and family life are more important than opening on Black Friday. According to SHRM.org, a professional human resources organization, “most businesses (76 percent) plan to be closed on the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 27.”

Some organizations suggest Black Friday and Cyber Monday lessen charitable giving at this time of year. A national effort, Giving Tuesday (givingtuesday.org), has arisen to counter these big consumer spending days with charitable giving on Dec. 1. It’s been building steam, now claiming a 470 percent increase in online donations since 2012, and counts more than 30,000 partners in 68 countries. Clearly an effort like this cannot hope to cultivate  the level of awareness among consumers generated by the  advertising efforts of ravenous retailers.

The evening before Thanksgiving, the Interfaith Council of Anchorage will hold its annual Thanksgiving Gathering at First Congregational Church at 7 p.m., featuring music and reflections from Anchorage’s many faith traditions followed by a reception with light snacks.

Muldoon Community Assembly (mcaonline.org) is the only church I located offering family and friends dinner and a wide variety of activities throughout the day on Thanksgiving Day. Activities start with karaoke at 11 a.m., and dinner is served at noon. This reflects the true spirit of early Thanksgivings celebrated by the pilgrims.

When I caught up with senior pastor, the Rev. Kent Redfearn, I discovered it goes deeper than that. He grew up in Barrow, where he learned the importance of feasts, recalling several times a year the whole village stopped and had a feast. Moving to Anchorage for ninth grade, he noted a lack of feasting. Everyone seemed to be isolated in their homes for holidays like Thanksgiving. Redfearn related that the Bible notes seven feasts, and joined this to the Inupiat feast concept. He further noted the New Testament contains accounts of Jesus performing miracles at feasts, where everyone was included.

“The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray starts with ‘our,’ not ‘I,’” Redfearn said. “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit was the first community, and the essence of faith is to live that type of community. The theology of ‘at table’ is powerful. In Psalm 23, it says ‘Thou preparest a table before me.’” Muldoon Community Assembly is to be commended for its inclusiveness and community sharing. Wouldn’t it be great to see a few more churches following its fine example?

According to  Lisa Sauder, executive director of Bean’s Cafe, donations have been down substantially, despite an ongoing need for gloves, hats, hand-warmers, and socks due to the cold temperatures. Coffee, tea and toilet paper are especially needed. They’ve started offering hot oatmeal in the mornings when normally a cold breakfast is served. Additionally, an afternoon snack of soup for core intake is being offered. They expect to serve up to 1,200 meals starting at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Over 80 people have been sheltering overnight at Bean’s, where 400 meals are served for breakfast. Bean’s posts critical needs on facebook.com/beanscafe on Thursdays.

“We couldn’t keep our doors open without the support of the community,” says Lisa. “If you’re unable to drop off donated items directly at Bean’s, they can also be dropped off at Tastee Freez (at Jewel Lake and Raspberry roads) or SoYo Yogurt Shoppe on Huffman Road. You can also donate funds online.”

The Downtown Soup Kitchen serves lunches Monday through Friday. “This year DSK is very thankful that we can provide a cold weather shelter for homeless women starting Nov. 30,” Sherrie Laurie, executive director, says “It has been a long process to get the permitting to do this but we are finally ready to open and provide a warm, safe shelter for these women.”

Other religious organizations also provide meals and shelter for those needing assistance: Brother Francis Shelter, Gospel Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army. Your financial help is critical at this time as well.

I’m pleased with the strides the Anchorage faith and nonprofit community has taken to provide assistance to all over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Faith community giving offers local help during the holidays – 12/13/14

In my last column, I mentioned the outrageous sums people spend to celebrate Christmas by extravagant giving to one another, especially children, as well as alternative fundraising efforts by our faith community. Today’s column features fresh updates and reader comments about giving, plus some brief Advent music thoughts.

Advent Music Miscues

Advent began on Nov. 30 and many churches, including mainlines, began singing Christmas carols, just as the commercial radio stations commenced broadcasting them too. Traditionally, Advent is considered a mini-Lent, a symbolic period of hopeful watching and waiting for Jesus’ birth. Under this tradition, hymnody is restrained and songs such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” and “O Come, Divine Messiah,” are used. Unfortunately, many churches unabashedly burst into carol singing as if Christmas had already arrived, echoing the offensive commercial push that makes Christmas happen from before Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. Part of what makes the Christmas season unique, religiously, is observing a period of looking and longing for the Messiah. To make it an accomplished fact seems to play into the hands of commercialism. Ultimately, by Christmas Eve, many are sick and tired of the sacred and secular Christmas music of the season.

Readers Voice Advent Concerns

One reader comments, “While I have donated years of cash payroll deductions to support charitable organizations, I don’t think it helps our children learn the life lessons of charity. My girls baked cookies, turkeys, vegetables, etc., to take to the shelter. The joy and excitement they felt was real, the handshakes and smiles of homeless patrons was real.”

I recall my parents taking their four children to hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins, and church events to actively participate in sharing the joys of Advent with those in need. Toys were minor considerations. Our real needs and those of others were paramount.

Giving Updates

Last Sunday I attended four events in our faith community, three of which I mentioned in last week’s column.

Baxter Road Bible Church Service

I like this Bible-based church, and its friendly members. Rev. Bob Mather’s message on Sunday dwelt on the key themes of Christmas. As he observed, “It’s all about surrender.” When the offering was taken, Mather noted this was the fourth year all December offerings would be given directly to charity. BRBC confidently believes this year will push them up over $250,000 given over the past four years.

Mitzvah Mall

Attending the Mitzvah Mall was more fun than writing about it. Congregation Beth Sholom opened their synagogue from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday to 24 local nonprofit organizations with primary interests in our area. The few exceptions were Malawi Children’s Village and Helping Hand for Nepal, locally based but outwardly oriented. Nothing was sold. Donations were given, many in the names of others, to fund these organizations. I peeked at some of the checks being written and they were substantial. It was a crazy good time seeing the vibrant energy flowing from this event. Over $15,000 was given to these organizations in those 3 hours. I checked out every nonprofit and discovered some new to me. One great idea I learned was the concept of Tzedakah money. Each week the Jewish youth bring this Tzedakah (charity) money to Religious School where it is pooled. When Mitzvah Mall rolls around, the money is split up and given back to individual youth as Mitzvah Bucks which they spend for those organizations where they believe the money will do the most good. Congregation Beth Sholom transfers the money to those organizations, and is also willing to talk about their Tzedakah program with other faith organizations that might want to start their own youth giving initiatives. What a wonderful energizing way to involve the youth in giving to charity!

First Presbyterian Church Alternative Gift Market

Arriving at First Presbyterian Church Sunday afternoon, just as they were closing, I had an opportunity to observe this new event. Approximately 10 “vendors” were there with holiday gift items. Bean’s Café was there with soups and coffee as was the Downtown Soup Kitchen. The Apparent Project had well-crafted handmade Haitian items for sale. The group’s purpose is to help parents take care of their kids, avoiding relinquishment and abandonment. I’m sure this event will grow next holiday season.

First and Samoan United Methodist Church free community dinner

These two congregations provided a tasty dinner for all called “A Place at the Table.” Served buffet style in the fellowship room of First United Methodist Church, many meals were gladly enjoyed, a great number by homeless and street people. It was a meaningful event for me personally as I met two delightful members with separate personal missions, which you’ll read about later.

Downtown Soup Kitchen connection

As a result of last week’s article, Sherrie Laurie, executive director of the Downtown Soup Kitchen, introduced her organization to me. This remarkable organization provides daily soup meals, showers, and clothing to many underserved residents of Anchorage. For years, ChangePoint and City Church have provided heavy lifting for this great organization, a load now being shared by 27 congregations in our faith community. BP, ConocoPhillips, and the Boy Scouts of America are also huge supporters of Downtown Soup Kitchen, as are hundreds of volunteers. In their beautiful new facility, they feed 350-500 people daily, provide showers for 400 people per month, do more than 300 loads of laundry, and distribute more than 700 pieces of clothing. All of this is supported by more than 1,800 monthly volunteer hours. Currently they’re distributing about 350 backpacks, purchased for $20 by individual donors who then fill them appropriately with supplies for men or women. For a truly worthy cause, I suggest putting Downtown Soup Kitchen on your giving list.

Personally, I’m cheered by this faith community outpouring for those in need. Clearly, I’ve not covered all local projects and fundraising but I’m rewarded to mention these and have a personal opportunity to be a part of giving to these worthy organizations. Keep those stories coming in directly to churchvisits@gmail.com so they can be included in future columns.