From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

New director for Our Place Community Ministries welcomes return to Spokane

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 25, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)

Connie Menard, the new director at Our Place Comunity Ministries, had an office job “for six or eight months” recently but her heart wasn’t in it. “It was a very stressful job,” she said. “I really wanted to get back into ministry.”

Our Place is an emergency assistance bureau, ecumenical in nature, supported by several denominations and congregations in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood. Our Place provides some food supplies, a clothing bank, and other emergency assistance to those living in what some call Washington State’s poorest neighborhood.

Among the congregations supporting Our Place is St. Joseph Parish, located on West Dean.

Menard has been director at Our Place since July 1 and in Spokane for about a year and a half. She and her husband, Steve, have returned to their roots since both were born and raised in the area. They lived in Portland, Denver and Seattle during most of their married years, and Menard worked in several different kinds of outreach for low-income and disabled people in those cities.

Skid Road in Portland was one of those places where Menard worked for seven years. In ministry there, she set up a non-profit grocery store, started a senior center and operated a low-income hotel. She also worked as an activity director in a nursing home.

In Denver, Menard worked at the Denver Rescue Mission, which she termed “a wonderful experience.” She set up an optical clinic, getting 18 doctors to donate their time and others to donate old eye-testing equipment and eyeglass frames.

Menard hopes to offer some of those services at Our Place and has some ideas to expand outreach. She would like to set up an optical clinic, provide counseling services to clients — ”right in their neighborhood” — and work out a recreational program for kids. “They get robbed of their childhood when they live in poverty,” Menard said.

She has obtained a grant for a paid assistant to oversee scheduling and coordination of the Our Place volunteers. That will free time for Menard to work on future plans. Volunteer coordinaton is itself a big job since at least eight people are needed each day to provide outreach services to patrons.

“This place couldn’t run without them,” Menard said. “People come faithfully every week to help out.”

She also wants to start a bi-monthly newsletter to inform donors, churches and area businesses “how lives are being impacted here and what Our Place is all about.”

Menard spoke about the extreme severity of the poverty experienced by people in the Spokane area, and wanted to remind everyone that the need to serve the poor “right in our own backyard” has not diminished.

Besides donations, Our Place’s food supplies come in part from the Second Harvest Food Bank. Inventory at Second Harvest, however, has become dangerously low in recent weeks. “It’s scary,” she said.

The food bank gets some of its food from major manufacturers, who have chosen to send their food donations to New York City. Our Place and a number of other outreach organizations in the Spokane area depend on Second Harvest for their food supplies.

Food is not the only necessity for Our Place clients. Menard said that with increasing energy costs, they have had many calls for energy assistance. One client planned to sell blood to have enough money to pay a heating bill.

“I foresee winter to be rough on our people,” she said. Many lower-income people live in older homes that are not insulated and heating costs are high.

Menard can relate to Our Place patrons, since she and her husband have been through their own struggle. Steve has battled cancer twice and the couple lost their business and then their home. They remain strong spiritually, she said. “We know God has a plan and we trust him to lead us in it.”

“In a way this job is like running a corporation,” Menard said. “I don’t get to spend enough time with patrons and I miss that part.”

In spite of not being able to spend time with patrons, of having to complete “mountains of documentation” for funding and other services and of living on the edge of meeting patrons’ needs, Menard said “it’s really great” to be back.

Food Bank stocks alarmingly low

Americans have been extremely generous in reaching out to victims of the nation’s tragedy back East. They have donated cash, food and other items to help those affected. But a reminder has been issued to remember the less fortunate at home whose needs remain the same.

Director Susan Faltermeyer at Second Harvest Food Bank in Spokane said their food donations “are way down and we’re pretty worried.” Not only are food donations less, she said, so are financial contributions. This becomes critical as the winter season approaches and the needs of the less fortunate increase.

Food Bank officials and the organizations that rely on the Food Bank remind everyone that food, or money to purchase food, is greatly needed. Donations can be taken or sent to Second Harvest Food Bank, 1234 E. Front Ave., Spokane, Wash. 99202.

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