As it gets a little colder, many’s thoughts turn to Renton folks who are unsheltered and out in the cold. But hyper-local organizations have ways residents, groups and families can help out this holiday season.
Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches (REACH) is one of the largest organization helping families who are homeless in Renton. REACH operates a day center — Center of Hope — for 55 families in the former jail at the bottom floor of Renton City Hall; a night shelter in another part of Renton; and a feeding center at the 300 Rainier Ave. building.
On Monday, Dec. 9, Renton City Council approved $120,000 each year for the next two years to fund REACH. The money will help increase staffing levels, more resources for finding permanent housing and stabilizing its operations. Executive Director Rev. Bianca Davis-Lovelace said the Mayor Denis Law has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest supporter of REACH.
The upcoming Christmas holiday is a big time of year for REACH, Davis-Lovelace said they need volunteers and donations for their Christmas dinner at Luther’s Table in Renton, where they serve about 200 people. The dinner needs food like canned goods and dinner rolls. They also accept small toys, gift cards and pajamas for all ages as Christmas gifts for the families.
Volunteer Coordinator Kinza Shafir said there are many volunteer positions for the day center open throughout the year. These positions include sorting donations, helping cook meals and cleaning the center of hope, located in Renton City Hall. There is also a receptionist volunteer position.
The REACH Meal Coalition always needs volunteers with their feeding program, whether it’s helping cook in the back or talking with guests. The coalition, served out of the old chamber building at 300 Rainier Ave. N., is open to anyone who’s hungry, bringing in families and single adults. The coalition especially needs groups or families to volunteer for the dinner program on Friday evenings. Groups can bring in food as well or just come prepared to serve food provided by REACH. Those volunteers are typically there from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“It really means a lot. We had a church come do a dinner for the families at the night shelter and didn’t just cook, they sat down with them,” Shafir said. “The residents (at Center of Hope) had a lot of good things to say, and really notice when people aren’t just serving them but spending time with them.”
Folks who find themselves shy of time this holiday season can also donate to the program. The items in most need for REACH right now are deodorant, razors, travel size shampoos and conditioners, hand warmers, chapstick, cereal and girls and women’s underwear. A full list of items you can donate to REACH are available at its website. Davis-Lovelace said they prefer donations to be dropped off between Monday through Friday, before 3 p.m. at Renton City Hall.
This year REACH has placed 52 families in homes staff say, with the help of their re-homing staff. In 2018, REACH rehoused 43 families. The Center of Hope provided 439 parents and children with day services, and the average stay was 77 days. The feeding center has offered 21,850 meals.
Renton resident Dominick Lucien is a community volunteer who often brings dinner to REACH’s night shelter, located away from city hall. She said giving back in Renton with her family has taught all of them to be less material and more giving.
She said for other Renton families who want to help out this holiday season, she advises you work with people you trust, and volunteer from your heart, not for gaining clout or profit. She also said Renton has a lot of resources for volunteers, you just need to ask.
Donation Coordinator Pattie Holt said she sees REACH as a real sanctuary where everyone is valued. Holt said the number of Renton groups volunteering or offering to donate is amazing. Kennydale Neighborhood Association, for example, has an annual food drive contest between different classrooms at Kennydale Elementary School, which is then donated to REACH. The association had about 3,750 food items donated during the food drive this year.
“Renton is really a community that cares deeply for our neighbors that are unhoused. I can’t say that enough, my heart is happy for how deeply they care,” Holt said.
All volunteer positions are listed at reachrenton.org/volunteer. More information on donations and other ways to help are also available at the REACH website.