by Katherine Knoll
Last Saturday, Sept. 15, marked the first meeting of the Whitworth club En Christo of the 2012 academic year. En Christo — Latin for “In Christ” — is Whitworth’s student-led hunger and Christian mission outreach program. Every Saturday, the club meets to prepare and distribute sack lunches to residents of downtown Spokane in need. The dual mission of the organization is to combat hunger in the Spokane community while delivering the Christian message.
Some volunteers visit Park Tower, a low-income apartment facility, and others deliver lunch to the homeless. In total, 180 lunches are distributed weekly. Of these, 130 are supplied through the donations of Sodexo, while the rest are funded by ASWU. The Union Gospel Mission generally provides desserts.
Whitworth junior Veronica Fetzer, recruiting coordinator for En Christo, volunteers at Park Tower. She has found that many residents there have a great need for the program.
A lot of Park Tower residents are elderly and/or disabled, have a low income and many have been homeless at some point in their lives, Fetzer said. Some residents may not even have anything to eat over the weekend if not for this program, she said.
Senior Phil Inouye volunteers by handing out lunches on the streets. When there aren’t enough volunteers, no street teams will be sent out, or they go later, Inouye said. But often, teams of at least four volunteers will visit areas frequented by the homeless to distribute food. One such area, known as The Boardwalk, is a sleeping and living community for many vagrants, and is also a regular stop for En Christo volunteers.
Inouye said those they serve are thankful for the work of the volunteers.
“A lot of the homeless people are more gracious, loving and caring than many people that I know,” Inouye said.
The sandwiches volunteers bring are only half of it, what’s important for them is knowing someone cares, Inouye said.
Whitworth senior Mason Vigil is this year’s director of the program, and has been working with En Christo for four years. Vigil, who used to work frequently on the street teams, now volunteers in Park Tower.
He describes the lunches as “door openers” because they facilitate relationships between residents and volunteers.
“It’s not just that [the residents] don’t have a lot of wealth, but they are also poor emotionally,” he said. “The main mission is not just to give out a sandwich, but to share the love of Christ.”
Each week, volunteers add a Bible verse or simple words of encouragement to each sack. They also hold a short session of worship or religious discussion. Starting this year that worship will take place on location, rather than at school, like previous years.
“One of the main changes is that it’s more of an outreach instead of keeping it to ourselves here at school,” Fetzer said.
En Christo works toward its Christian and humanitarian goals by cultivating personal relationships with the residents week after week.
“I’ve built up relationships with my residents. I know what’s going on in their lives and they know the same for me,” Vigil said.
En Christo and the relationships acquired therein not only have a positive impact on those served, but on the students as well.
“I know for a lot of volunteers it has kind of affected their perspective on life. Maybe students feel like they don’t have a way to give back to the community, or any gifts or talents to offer. It has given them a sense of purpose, like they have something to offer other people, and that’s affected their life at Whitworth,” Fetzer said.
En Christo shapes the way students relate to their community, Vigil said.
“For [many students] it’s actually an eye-opener to see that there are people in this world who are hurting, and do need help. It’s really humanized the homeless [for them]. To think, ‘that’s actually a person, and that could actually be me,’” Vigil said.
En Christo takes place close to home, allowing students to invest in people in their new community.
“It’s easy to turn a blind eye and think everybody’s fine and there’s no poverty or hunger in Spokane, but there is,” Fetzer said.”It’s important to not take what we have for granted, but put it back into the community,” Fetzer said.
Freshman Jordan Runk is a new volunteer for En Christo.
“I feel like it’s a point in my life where I need to start giving more,” he said.
Fetzer said it’s one way to find joy.
“Take advantage of blessings you’ve been given and bless other people,” she said.
Contact Katherine Knoll at firstname.lastname@example.org