SEATTLE, Wash. — A yearly Thanksgiving tradition for many families is to volunteer and serve food at a nearby homeless shelter, church or rescue mission. The volunteer list at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission for Thanksgiving day is full.
Seattle’s homeless crisis appears to never end, meaning there’s a constant need to serve hot meals to people in need. Everyday has become Thanksgiving Day.
The perception is Thanksgiving is the busiest day of the year for places like UGM, that’s not true.
The Mission will serve 1,500 turkey dinners on Thanksgiving at its four Seattle locations. But on an average day, the Mission services a lot more. It’s averaging 2,350 meals a day with its busiest day happening on a random cold winter day, says a Mission spokesperson.
The need for volunteers to serve meals is not just on the holidays. Ironically, the high profile nature of Seattle’s homeless crisis has been a help rather than a negative in finding volunteers.
“As the homeless crisis has become more known to everybody, yes we've had a lot more volunteers come out and sign up and help,” said Paul LaRose, Director of Emergency Shelters for UGM.
Its volunteers like Crystal Spurrier, who, along with her husband, spent the day-before-Thanksgiving preparing lunch at UGM’s Hope Place in Seattle’s Rainier Valley.
“It’s just always been important to our family to give back and help where it's needed,” said Spurrier.
In fiscal year 2018, UGM served 857,439 meals and over 113,000 meals distributed via their Search and Rescue volunteers and staff in their red vans. UGM relies entire on private donations.
The City of Seattle funds many organizations with meal money. In 2017, the City funded 943,763 emergency meals to low-income and homeless individuals.
Shawn Schiller has served on staff in a variety of roles during his three years at UGM.
“We get about 30 to 40 volunteers a week,” said Schiller, who is the Kitchen Ministry Coordinator at Hope Place. “The average Seattleite that's lived here for the last 30 or 40 years is seeing the changes that are going on."
That change is the visible increase in tents on the streets and homeless need meals.
Sara Russo was one of those who bounced around from homeless camp to homeless camp, that’s until she was offered a place to stay at Hope Place with her newborn daughter.
“I was able to get out of that rut and bring myself back to being a strong, stable, sober, clean person,” says Russo. “It’s nice to be able to help back.”