Volunteers are about ‘second chances’ at Benedict House

Richard Dykstra, a St. Bede’s Episcopal Church volunteer, opens containers of sour cream to make 25 helpings of beef stroganoff Tuesday evening at Benedict House in Bremerton.  - Greg Skinner
Richard Dykstra, a St. Bede’s Episcopal Church volunteer, opens containers of sour cream to make 25 helpings of beef stroganoff Tuesday evening at Benedict House in Bremerton.
— image credit: Greg Skinner

Richard Dykstra and Linda Varda were preparing beef stroganoff Tuesday evening but they weren’t cooking in their own kitchen — or even for themselves.

“I’m ready for onions,” said Varda.

Her husband, Dykstra, replied, “OK, ready for onions.”

The married couple, part of St. Bede’s Episcopal Church in Port Orchard, were preparing dinner at Benedict House, an emergency shelter and transitional housing facility for single men and men with children, run by Catholic Community Services in Bremerton. The facility has 25 adult beds available. Different volunteer groups help every afternoon at Benedict House to prepare and serve a meal.

Varda, 64, volunteers because she believes in second chances.

“It’s about helping the residents have a second chance,” she said. “A lot of folks are a paycheck away from being homeless.”

Mike Curry, director of Benedict House, said about 60 to 70 groups that represent a broad range of the faith community as well as other service organizations volunteer to prepare dinner for the men. They take anywhere from a single day of service to a couple weeks, he said. Volunteers are there seven days a week and residents sometimes prepare their own meals, he added.

Dykstra, 71, said their church brings a group on a four-day stretch quarterly, totaling 16 days a year. He said they have 10-year-olds to older folks like himself volunteering at Benedict House.

“We do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Dykstra said. He added that he was raised in a 1,200-person town in Iowa where contributing to the community was just a part of life.

Being at Benedict House is a way for the Port Orchard couple to contribute to this community — and it’s not going unnoticed.

“They are great. And, they don’t have to. It’s as good as being home,” said Wes, a resident who has been at Benedict House for two weeks that asked for his last name to not be used.

Another resident, Shaun Holmes, agreed that what the volunteers do for them is appreciated.

“I appreciate everything that they do. It takes special people to take the time to come here and cook,” he said.

Holmes, 39, has been a resident at Benedict House for about two weeks after previously spending nights outside near Evergreen Park. He has been homeless for about six months after an aunt, who he was staying with died. Holmes said he has been left disabled after he was run over by a car in Florida five years ago. He has had multiple neck and back surgeries, he said.

According to the state Department of Social and Health Services, in September 2011, there were 2,166 homeless people in Kitsap County and 52 percent of those are without shelter. The September 2010 numbers were at 1,758 homeless in the county.

Benedict House is the only homeless shelter for single men and men with children in the county. Staff conduct one-on-one case management with the men to help them put their lives back on track.

The volunteers are able to decide what meal they want to prepare and can choose to purchase the items themselves, Varda said.

She added that when they go grocery shopping, they always pick up a few extra items to donate to the food bank.

“There’s a lot of different ways to volunteer. All these communities have a need,” Dykstra said.

And many people, like Dykstra and Varda, have found one at Benedict House.

“You can’t help but nourish souls when nurturing bodies,” said Varda.


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