Community Comes Together Through Monthly Cookout
By Kelsey Atkins
Gary Redden believes that many people are weary of someone holding the sign on the street asking for money. People usually will keep walking, ignoring the person who may have little to nothing. The Salvation Army in Seattle has created an environment that gives people an opportunity to connect with others from different backgrounds and economic situations, breaking the barrier between people’s perception of the homeless and helping to build relationships among those in need and the community.
Redden, program manager for The Salvation Army in Seattle, holds true to the organization’s belief in meeting human needs and helping neighbors. The Salvation Army has taken the well-known American tradition of barbecuing to the streets of downtown Seattle hosting a monthly cookout where anyone is welcome to join for a free meal.
The Salvation Army in Seattle serves people in the community who need assistance in meeting basic needs. The cookout allows the clients who use these services, to interact with staff, community members and other clients.
“The cookout is an opportunity to do fellowship with the clients,” said Rebecca Phillips, food bank coordinator for The Salvation Army in Seattle. “For us, it’s the perfect time to sit side by side and get to know our neighbors.”
The cookout breaks the barrier between the person holding the sign and the person walking by. It is a safe and comfortable environment for open dialogue between clients, staff and community members. “It gives the staff an opportunity to sit and interact with clients and see how we can better serve them,” Redden said.
Clients are able to get connected to services The Salvation Army offers. Many people are unaware of how to get involved with the program or receive help. The cookout allows information to be passed around about these services.
“We’ve definitely had a lot of success in connecting clients to services that we offer, whether that is rental assistance, eviction prevention, utility help or food bank hours,” Phillips said.
Captain Mary Libby of The Salvation Army overheard a conversation between two men at one of the cookouts. One man was telling the other about The Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center – or ARC – that he had gone through a few years ago. He explained the services the ARC provides and how they have helped him. Without the cookout, this conversation may not have happened, and may not have opened doors for one of the men to become involved in the program.
The cookout originally began two years ago as a celebration of The Salvation Army 125th anniversary in Seattle. The Salvation Army decided to continue the event because of the success and benefits for both clients and staff. “We get a lot more than we give,” Phillips said. “We get so much love and joy from the clients and we get to hear so many great stories from people.”
Since starting the cookout, The Salvation Army has connected many people to its services, like the ARC. The average attendance at the cookout is nearly 150 people, said Captain Libby. Soon after the cookouts began, Summerfield Suites by Hilton (located one block away) joined as a partner and now donates most of the food for the cookouts.
Community action agencies also attend the cookout to connect people to the services they offer. Budget Mobile, for example, comes to provide free phones to low income people. Health care providers also have been present.
Future cookouts will be held on July 24, August 28, and September 25, from 11:30 am to 12:30pm, at 1101 Pike Street in Seattle.