Sammy Smith, Jamie Smith and Natalie Fernandi making breakfast at Compass Center.
At Large in Ballard: Hot Meal
The Sunday breakfast menu sounds simple. The pancakes are from a mix. Orange juice will be purchased, not hand-squeezed, the egg casseroles baked in advance. But it’s not the menu that’s matters. It’s the ingredients. Teenagers and neighbors who have answered the Smith family’s call to become part of preparing and serving a monthly hot breakfast at a men’s shelter In Pioneer Square.
As parents and community members, Barb and Kip Smith have always felt strongly about involving their children in ways to help those who need a helping hand. Kip Smith grew up in a family that helped through their church. Barb Smith’s background is in social work, as is that of friend and business partner Lauren Malloy-Johnson. They co-own Space to Create on 70th St NW, where they have always managed, through various events, to support the nonprofit Solid Ground.
There’s a common tendency to use the holidays as an opportunity to help at a food bank or a shelter but the Smiths, and many of their friends, wanted to find a way to contribute year-round. However the Smiths are realists and their desire to do more wasn’t always easy to navigate between work, school and sports. Enter another ingredient, a free Internet organizing software called Sign-up Genius.
Barb Smith had long been wrestling with how to connect a shelter’s specific need with an extended network of folks who also wanted to help in thoughtful ways. The Smith family helped prepare a meal at a shelter on Thanksgiving and were re-inspired to commit for after the holidays. Barb’s contacts led her to a shelter open on weekends that said what would be wonderful was a hot breakfast for men who normally just eat cold cereal. Once a month the Smiths decided on a starting point: Surely they could coordinate a Sunday breakfast once a month.
Once Barb Smith discovered the Sign-up Genius software it made every soccer snack list or classroom telephone tree look like a relic. By simply sending the dates and a shopping list of needs to interested families, they could commit to as little as a gallon of orange juice to serving pancakes as often as once a month. The software even uses the checkmark icon. Egg dish for March? Check. Cleanup? The Bente Fernandi Family. Check!
For oldest daughter Sammy Smith, the shelter breakfasts will be a way to stay close with longtime friends who are now in different high schools. If she can’t go on a Sunday morning she could have a baking party the day beforehand instead. Meanwhile, it was her younger sister Jamie who saved the day at Thanksgiving by forming sausage patties from 15 pounds of meat that Cascioppo Brothers donated. “The house smelled like sausages for weeks.”
Participants know ahead of time that the men staying in transitional housing at the shelter are having a tough time; helping in-person is not for everyone. Donations of money, time, supplies, transport and helping in person are equally needed.
Barb Smith’s dream is that the idea will spread. “I want it to be replicable,” Barb Smith said, “Simple enough that it just becomes something that you do.” For high school students the volunteer efforts can be logged for community service but the Smiths believe that many families really want to volunteer together.
“When you’re volunteering it’s important that it’s something you actually like doing,” Kip Smith added. With everyone so busy the ability to volunteer together helps friends and relatives socialize while filling a need. “And the need is always there.”
So far the Sign-Up Genius sheet only extends until June, but slots are filling -- task-by-task and gallon-by-gallon. Barb Smith’s next goal, “I want there to be more people volunteering than there is need.” Which of course would allow the program to expand to other shelters, more weeks per month, more generations showing another generation the importance of giving.
“Sobering, eye-opening, gratifying, it took a bit to learn to work the stoves …” Those are just a few initial impressions. The first shelter breakfast was served on Feb. 10.
The Smith Family is as busy as any family, juggling jobs, schoolwork, lots of sports and an excitable dog. But they know that if they can make the time so can anyone else. With lifestyles that don’t always include the church, Scout troops or organized opportunities to help others in the community the Smiths and friends want to create a new path for giving.
Every contribution is appreciated, by both participant and recipient. How often can you gain so much return from making a coffeecake or giving 2-3 hours of time several times per year? With the help of Sign-Up Genius and a few hours per month, it cooks into hot meals that fill bellies, hearts and teenage souls.
If you are interested, contact Barb Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.595.3474
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