Hunger and homelessness are unfortunate partners. Those without housing may struggle daily to get enough to eat. Some live with physical, social or mental conditions that make finding food and shelter challenging. Even those with jobs may not earn enough to cover all of life's essential needs.
The City of Bellingham has been active in helping to address homelessness in our community. The City's primary focus has been to support the creation of more housing, including new apartments units and new permanent supported housing units or rental subsidies. Unfortunately, funding and resources are inadequate to quickly build and operate the entirety of permanent solutions needed for those experiencing homelessness, so the City has also focused on ways to address the public health and safety concerns. The City's investment in the Women's Winter Shelter at Civic Field and motel stays for families, as well as the support provided to the tiny home village currently located in Fairhaven, are examples of a solution which addresses public health.
Most recently, the City stepped up to help a long-time, successful street meal service. CAST – which stands for Coffee and Sandwiches Together – has been granted a permit to provide food and fellowship at Arch of Reconciliation at the northeast corner of the downtown Bellingham Public Library.
CAST began more than 20 years ago when a local pastor made some sandwiches and, with a couple other volunteers, headed out to serve those who were homeless and hungry. Today that service continues, thanks to the Interfaith Coalition and hundreds of volunteers ranging from students to retired professionals who prepare, deliver, and share coffee and sandwiches.
This street meal service begins serving in its new location, adjacent to Bellingham City Hall, on Monday, Feb. 24. CAST will provide food and beverages every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday between 6 and 6:45 p.m. The City has facilitated the new location by providing new lighting.
To learn more about the CAST program, including how to donate or volunteer, phone (360) 734-3983 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAQ provided by Interfaith Coalition regarding CAST:
Who do we serve? CAST serves anyone who is hungry. We serve those who are homeless and live on the street, the working poor that drive up in their home/vehicle, youth that have nowhere to go and, in many cases, people getting off work late who could use a pick-me-up. We do not refuse food to any of our neighbors who may come to us.
What and when do we serve? Between 6 and 6:45 pm. we provide hot soup, cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and a variety of beverages including hot coffee and tea.
Why do we serve? Though there are outlets for food and shelter, not everyone can take advantage of those services. For instance, someone who cannot tolerate much noise may not be comfortable in a large group of people. Some we serve have been treated poorly or judged harshly by others. We serve those who have been marginalized.
Why are you moving from where you have been serving? As a service that's been around for 20 years, we have moved a few times. It is important to be in a safe, lighted, centrally located area in order to be most accessible to those who are hungry. Our goal is to cause the least impact possible.
How will it work at this new location? We have four volunteers serving coffee and sandwiches Monday through Thursday, except for Tuesdays – when First Baptist Church, one block away, serves its weekly hot meal to anyone who is hungry.
How does CAST deal with those who may have social problems? We wouldn't still be serving after 20 years if we faced violence or major problems. The reality is that we have had few negative experiences. We have long-time volunteers, which means trust relationships have been built. And our volunteers are trained to defuse or deescalate bad behavior. They do not hesitate to call 911, if it should be necessary.
Won't this increase the number of people in the area and potentially create problems? Again, in our experience over two decades, those we serve eat – and then leave. We will monitor and adapt to needs as they arise, just as we have done successfully with this program throughout its years of service.