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Charity starts at home they say, and local churches are leading the way -- as here

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - Shown helping to cook and serve in the All Saints Hot Meals program are, from left, front row: Deborah Swan, Nancy Patrick (coordinator), Sam Kahn, and Katie Essick; back row: Steve Gates, Sarah Cooper, Mark Portrait, Tina Savage, and John Essick. Nancy Patrick admits that she is passionate about the Saturday hot meals program that she coordinates at Woodstock's All Saints' Episcopal Church, where she is a member.

Each Saturday at noon, about one hundred people are served in the Parish Hall.

Before starting to work with the All Saints' program in 2009, Patrick lived in Idaho, where she learned to cook in large quantities as a volunteer for twenty-three years with a hot meals program there.

Now she orders food weekly from the Oregon Food Bank, and oversees volunteer cooks and servers every Saturday of the year. The program in the Parish Hall of All Saints' is very successful, serving 3,974 meals last year – not counting second servings, and to-go boxes.

"We ask no questions regarding income. For the low-income people, it makes their SNAP (food stamps) go further. One of the big things that's important and appreciated is that we treat everyone as equals," smiles Patrick. "One purpose [of the program] is to give a safe place to come and relax and visit, while having a nutritious, balanced meal." For people with no place to call home, this hospitality is especially appreciated.

The Woodstock program began in 1988. At first it was just church members who cooked and served, but now volunteers from the community are integral to the program. Volunteer cooks (who must have a food handler's license) help with meal preparation. Others help with set up, serving, and cleanup. Nancy fills in for the third- Saturday cook, if business takes the other cook out of town.

John and Katie Essick, volunteers from the Woodstock neighborhood, have been helping to cook every first Saturday for fifteen years, and this past year they invited Lewis School retired teacher Deborah Swan, and former PP&R employee and Woodstock neighborhood resident Sarah Cooper, to help.

"It feels really good to demonstrate to our guests that they are special. We treat them a little like restaurant patrons: Offering them options, serving them tasty food, chatting with them for a few minutes. And I love working with the other volunteers, because we all feel the same way," remarks Essick.

There are usually ten volunteers to help set up and serve each Saturday, but when they are short on help, such as on the fifth Saturday of the month, "clients" pitch in.

"Clients help serve, and wash dishes. We can always depend on someone to help out. Everyone cleans up after themselves," says Patrick.

One client who helps set tables is 71 year-old John Linneball, a Lloyd District resident. He has been going to All Saints' hot meals for fifteen years, and says, "I like the hospitality – and that they serve us at the table for the first serving. To stand in line for second servings is hard on my back, so they serve me a second."

Safeway donates twelve loaves of French bread every Saturday. Patrick says the program could always use more fresh produce donated for salads and hot vegetables.

The church's janitor, Joe Marlia, picks up from the Food Bank weekly, and goes to the Food Bank "docks" to pick up desserts, yogurts, apples, and frozen strawberries.

Patrick buys placemats, napkins, salad dressing and canned tomatoes at the Cash & Carry store in the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood. Last year the total spending on food was $1,000 – which had a retail value of $10,000.

In addition to the Food Bank, the program is largely supported by donations from the congregation and the community. A collection basket is made available every first and third Sundays at the All Saints' church services. Sometimes, clients choose make a cash donation for their meal, too.

Patrick observes that there is no proselytizing or saying of grace before meals, meeting USDA guidelines. But, she says, the caring meals and the volunteer connections show the guests that they are welcome and valued. "I learn a lot of love and faith from them," says Patrick of the clients they serve. Anyone who would like to help in any way with these meals, or who has questions about the program, can e-mail Patrick at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Donation checks can be sent to All Saints' Episcopal Church, 4003 S.E. Woodstock Boulevard., Portland, OR 97206 – and should have "Hot Meals" written on the memo line.

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