February 15, 2016

Haystacks Prove a Hit With Homeless Teens

, North Pacific GleanerNow

We love haystacks” is a common remark heard at a U.S. shelter for street teens on the first Tuesday of every month.

For the past 25 years, staff members from the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Upper Columbia Conference have been sharing Christ’s love by taking a monthly meal downtown to serve the roughly 20 street youth and their adult mentors at the Crosswalk shelter in Spokane, Washington.

And this classic U.S. Adventist entree of vegetables, cheese, and beans piled on corn chips is proving as popular at Crosswalk as it is in church fellowship halls.

“Nutritious meals are an important staple of need for our kids,” John Robertson, Crosswalk’s program manager, said with a smile. “And we love haystacks.”

The Adventist Church is among several denominations that provide food to Crosswalk, a ministry of the nonprofit organization Volunteers of America that mentors teens who have fallen through the cracks — many of whom live on the streets — because of abuse at home or after dropping out of school. Crosswalk provides education toward obtaining the equivalent of a high-school diploma and life-coaching, as well as offering an overnight drop-in shelter.

Tiffany Neil, Darin Patzer, and Doug McCoy posing with a plate of haystacks at Crosswalk. (GleanerNow)

“When I first started here, the kids would have to leave the shelter to find food then come back for their afternoon education tutoring and other services,” said Ken Jernberg, Crosswalk’s head teacher for the past 30 years. “But with all of these churches helping provide meals, the kids' days no longer have to be interrupted.”

The Upper Columbia Conference, which has its headquarters in Spokane, has passed haystacks duties from department to department over the years, but the monthly outreach has continued without interruption. GLOW tracts are also shared together with the meals.

Staff members of KEEH-FM, the Adventist-operated Positive Life Radio station in Spokane, hosted a weekly group for more than a year at the shelter, with five to seven teens attending regularly. The teens played games, answered trivia questions for prizes, and watched “Matthew Videos,” a series of DVDs about Jesus.

The teens were not the only people affected by the outreach. A shelter volunteer started attending church because of the friendship that he and his wife made with KEEH volunteers.

The teens often appear rough on the exterior, and their language can be coarse, but Adventist volunteers said they have gradually realized that many are just hungering for encouragement, kindness, and a chance to experience healthy relationships.

“I can’t imagine some of the circumstances these kids have been through, but I am happy there is a program they can choose to participate in and empower themselves,” said Tiffany Neil, the current meal coordinator and office manager at KEEH-FM. “The monthly Crosswalk meal we prepare is helping provide the stability these individuals need to thrive.”

As the popular quote often attributed to Francis of Assisi says, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.” Upper Columbia Conference staff members are wordlessly sharing the gospel through their love, their time, and, yes, haystacks.