CHS Crow | Roberta, Marcy and Keith — ‘When you get something that tastes good and you can always find someone to just sit and talk with — this is a blessing’


After four years of serving up warm meals in a supportive social environment on Thursday nights, last month Community Supper added a weekly Wednesday night dinner to its offerings at All Pilgrims — the church that makes for a quintessential north Broadway landmark with its circa-1900 brick edifice bedecked with a giant “You Are Welcome Here” sign, and that plays many community-centered roles in Capitol Hill. The second night of supper seems to be gaining traction as word spreads, with about 80 meals being served this last Wednesday night to guests and volunteers, in addition to the average of about 140 meals that are served on Thursday nights, Don Jensen, director of Community Lunch on Capitol Hill, said. The Supper is an extension of Community Lunch’s long-running offerings at Central Lutheran on Cal Anderson Park.

Wanting to give space for the stories and perspectives of a few guests and regulars, which might in turn help tell the story of Community Supper in this moment of the program’s expansion, the CHS Crow dropped by and met with an aspiring support specialist with lots of love for the Hill, a Seattle-born soprano who’s created community through the meals and a father and grandfather, elder and pastor, who’s not done with his work yet.

  Roberta

Roberta

Who are you?
I’m in recovery, I’m 49 years old. I’m getting ready to try and endeavor in being a peer support specialist, because I’d like to work with homeless people and stuff. Because I’ve been homeless for about a year-and-a-half.

At first I was really taken aback by the community, and thinking I would never want to have [anything to do with it]. And then once you start to really know people in the homeless community, and you get their trust, they’re wonderful people. And they’re people from all walks of life.

And a lot of people here aren’t homeless. A lot of people here have homes. They just come here because it’s a decent meal, and it’s a nice place to be. And if you’re lonely and you live alone — I can see a lot of older people here probably come here just to get out and be around people.

I’m a Seattleite. I’m from Seattle. And I’ve seen a lot of places, like I said, and about a year-and-a-half of being around these places, this is the best place, the best meal.

How long have you  been coming here?
About a year.

Do you live in the Capitol Hill area?
No, I live in a shelter called Angeline’s. … And when you’re homeless, it’s really important to get something nutritious. And when you get something that tastes good and you can always find someone to just sit and talk with — this is a blessing. And when it was even just Thursdays.

I gotta be down at Angeline’s by six o’clock, and I risk being late just to come here and get this meal, because it’s the best meal of the week that I get for free. Because it’s always nutritious and it always tastes good and they always give you generous portions. And you always feel welcome.

What is Angeline’s about?
Angeline’s is a shelter for women. And it’s a drop-in center by day and at night it’s a WRC, it’s a women’s referral center were they send us out to various shelters. And we also stay there — it gives us a place to stay at night. From at least 6 or 7 the next morning we have shelter. And it’s named after Chief Seattle’s daughter.

Are you comfortable sharing what you’re in recovery from?
Drugs and alcohol. Yeah, I have no problem talking about that. You know, I came from kind of a tumultuous childhood, and it led to a tumultuous teenage years, which led to a wreck of an adult year. And I basically fell through the cracks and became saturated with street and addiction life, for like 34 years. And when it becomes of your existence, it’s really hard to break that mode of thinking because you’re hard-wired that way. But I finally… have enough knowledge to realize that I’m either gonna die, or I’m gonna go insane or I’m gonna end up in an institution. So, I’ve decided again to try and do recovery. And that’s another thing, too — you’re safe in a place like this because they don’t allow people to come here using.

What would you have to say to someone who’s thinking, ‘Hey, I wanna start turning things around’?
I would say to go to safe places. I would say not to give up, to realize that you’re not the only one in the rodeo, you’re not unique. Because I think a lot of people get stuck in addiction because they feel that they’re alone. They get the sense that they’ve done things that are worse than anybody else, that they’re hopeless. And because addiction is a chemical  thing as well as a psychological thing — a lot of people don’t realize it, because of your neurotransmitters and things like that, you are physically hard-wired. You really have to wait until your body reprograms itself.

And I would tell them to just hold on, go to safe places, get a support system, and find a higher power.

Did anything bring you out this night in particular?
The food. Because the food isn’t always good other places, because of the economy and things … And like I said, this is worth it. And you know, you always feel better when you get a hearty meal. You sleep better, you feel better, and you feel like somebody. You feel like you’re a human being when you come here,because they’re not just throwing you slop.

This is my first time I’ve come on Wednesday, because they just started Wednesday and Thursday.

What do you have to say to the people of Capitol Hill?
You rock! Capitol Hill is a cornucopia of personalities. And because I’m interracial, I’m 49, I’m almost 50, I come from an era where it wasn’t as versatile. And in Capitol Hill, you can be you. And everybody is definitely being them. And it is melting pot. It is wonderful.

  Marcy

Who are you?IMG_3219c
My name is Marcy — Cliff and I volunteer here together. And Cliff got me involved in the Community Lunch program. And I come every week if I can.

How long have you been coming and volunteering here?
About four years.

And you’re from Seattle?
I was born in Swedish [the First Hill medical center which, coincidentally, is a Community Lunch sponsor].

And what keeps you coming back here?
Friends, volunteering, helping, just hanging out. Just getting away from my building. … my building’s kind of stressful.

… do you live in Capitol Hill?
Beacon Hill. SHH housing.

How do you feel about the addition of the Wednesday night dinner?
I love it, I think it’s great. And I like Don [Community Lunch director Don Jensen]. Lucas [who works at the supper]. And I thank Cliff for bringing me here.

What can you tell me about your volunteering?
I roll  up silverware. Today I helped make the sandwiches. … And if they need me too I hand out silverware at the Cal Anderson Park one, the lunch one.

… what time do you usually start getting things ready?
I get here about 3.

I know some neighbors had concerns about adding an additional night here.
I feel like we’re doing great. I feel like if they came in here and knew more about us, they would find it rewarding. If they just gave it a chance. … It’s a good thing to have here. If you don’t have money, this saves your life. You have to eat. And I have friends here. I’ve made a lot of friends with the guests. I like talking a lot.

Anything in particular bring you out this night?
Just my usual volunteering job. We usually have choir on Thursday nights at 7, but tonight the choir director is ill.

.. how long have you been singing?
A year. Last year I was singing for Easter, and we’d just got done singing a concert raising money for Community Lunch. … It was the 23rd of November, and it was great. And you can find that at Youtube.

… and how many people are in the choir?
Oh I don’t know … about 19, 20. I sing in the soprano.

How do you and Cliff know each other?
We met in 1988, but we were not friends. Except, I had a crush on Cliff in 1988. And then we started going out about six years ago.

Would you like to see things keep going here?
I would like it to keep going. I would be upset if it stopped. We’re going to have a spring fundraiser. [Info and tickets — $55 — available here.]

What do you have to say to the people of Capitol Hill?
I would just like to say that I like working with Bob and I like working with all my friends here at the Community Lunch Program. All these people are my friends.

  Keith

20150225_174929cWho are you?
Well I’m originally from Alaska.  I am Tlinglit — Alaska Native. I do volunteer … Like I say, if people go hungry in Seattle it’s on them, because there’s about 85 places that feed them, every day of the week.

And I know what it’s like to be there.

I do go to church here, fellowship here. So my way of giving back to them is volunteering. The best way to find out places that people can eat is to go volunteer at some places because everybody’s talking about coming out to the meal.

I volunteered before I moved to Denver, and when I lived in Denver I volunteered at places over there.

20150225_175751cWhat brought you to Seattle?
I have kids and grand kids here. I have 25 over there [in Denver] and 12 here.

…  you  must be busy keeping track of all of them.
No, not really. The only thing they love their grandpa is for money. [Laughter.]

Do you live in Capitol Hill?
No, I’m staying on Aurora, in a motel. Until I get in to housing.  But housing is pretty hard to get in to. There’s about two-year waiting list.

I always say when I win the lotto I’ll buy housing for all the people … because I know how it is to be cold and without a place.

… what would you call the complex?
I don’t think I have a name for it. [Laughter.]

How was the food tonight?
Good. The salmon’s nice and salty. I was raised on salmon, but that’s different.

What’s the importance of a good meal like this?
I think sitting down and having fellowship with people. … This is a place where you can sit down … you don’t have to rush, there’s a restroom, warmth, fellowship, get out of the rain. And you can take food home. And they give away shoes.

What part of Alaska are you from?
Originally from Sitka.

What are you up to after this?
I’m involved in the Native community. I’m one of the elders. I teach the Native crafts and arts, and the language, the history. And we’re getting ready for a big demonstration this Friday down in Tacoma. …

I’m one of the founding father’s of the American Indian Movement — AIM. And AIM was actually started to protect the people. Now we have lots of people saying they are part of AIM who are running for governor, mayor, and etc. And that’s beside the purpose that we started for.

… why do you think things are changing with it?
A lot of it’s to do with the elders. Very few of which are still alive that were up there. There’s only about five of us original elders that are still alive. A lot of them had either died because of drugs and alcohol and old age, natural causes.

Anything else you can tell me about yourself?
I’m also a founding father of the Chief Sealth Club, the Native American center on Second Avenue. I’m also one of the founding fathers over there. … We used to make arts and crafts in the bus stop. Now it’s in a 20 million dollar building. And we used to feed them with food stamps — we’d take our food stamps and buy groceries.

… My great-grandpa, who helped raised me, he said, if you can talk you can sing; if you can listen, you can learn; if can walk, you can dance. And I find it to be true.

How old are you now?
I’ll be 71 in July. And I say any day above ground is a good day. [Laughter.] Rather be looked at than viewed.

… hopefully you’ve got another 20 good years …
I don’t think I want to live that long. I used to say I didn’t want to outlive my siblings, but I have. And then I’m outliving my kids and my grand kids: I’ve lost three sons and two daughters, and three grand kids.

What do you have to say to the people of Capitol Hill?
Like I say if they go hungry it’s on them. Because there’s places that feed them. It’s not a lot of work to get to. All the food’s free. I know because I used to be one of them. I used to be there too. The way I got in to the community was I started volunteering at First Presbyterian Church. … Seven days a week. I got involved in there. I used to feed them in Queen Anne. I used to feed on Saturdays. The best way to keep from getting in [trouble], keep busy. I used to be a chronic alcoholic myself. Like 46 years ago.

… they say it’s tough to beat.
It’s really not, if you just put it down and turn away from it. Don’t even think about it, keep busy. And I ignored all my friends and family, because you can’t help them if you don’t help yourself. And I became a drug and alcohol counselor. 43 years ago.

Are you still doing that?
Oh yeah. I volunteer. I’m a kind of a semi-retired pastor. I didn’t really retire. I go to prisons, hospitals, do the streets.

IMG_4778

You can check out a short documentary video and learn more about the Community Supper, which runs from 5 to 6 pm, here.

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6 thoughts on “CHS Crow | Roberta, Marcy and Keith — ‘When you get something that tastes good and you can always find someone to just sit and talk with — this is a blessing’

  1. Thanks for three interesting interviews.

    Roberta’s story is a reminder that, even when a person is homeless due to drug/alcohol addiction, it IS possible to recover and lead a healthier lifestyle. And Keith is reminding us that there are many food programs in Seattle….there are 3 meals a day, 7 days a week available. As he says, “if they go hungry, it’s on them.” Because of the availability of free meals, I have very little empathy for all those showing “give me money for food” signs we see on our streets…what they really mean is “give me money for drugs/alcohol.”

  2. Bob, how much does your empathy actually cost you and how well do you know these people with the “give me money for food” signs?

    What if they’re ineligible or have been kicked out of meal/shelter programs? What do we do then? Lock them up? Let them die on the street? “Put them somewhere else”?

    Even if they are suffering from drug addiction—let them suffer through withdrawals on the street?

    I get the sense through all your CHS comments that perhaps you have a “good heart” and are coming from the right place. However, you’re quite cantankerous and judgmental.

    • I plead guilty. But sometimes those with my temperament have something valid to say.

      No one is “ineligible” for meal/shelter programs unless their behavior has warranted this.

      I would like to see a much more comprehensive effort, by government and nonprofits, to help the addicted and mentally ill. If someone breaks their leg while out jogging, they get immediate help. But if someone is psychotic on our streets, nothing is done. Our system is broken.