Haystacks Prove to Be a Favorite for Homeless Teens

“We love haystacks” is a common strain heard at Crosswalk youth shelter in Spokane, Wash., the first Tuesday of every month.

For the past 25 years, staff members of the Upper Columbia Conference (UCC) office 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 shelter. And this classic Adventist entree of vegetables, cheese and beans piled on corn chips is proving as popular at Crosswalk as it is in church fellowship halls.

Crosswalk is a ministry of the nonprofit organization Volunteers of America and serves the purpose of mentoring teens who have fallen through the cracks — many of whom live on the streets — either because of abuse at home or after dropping out of school. Crosswalk provides education toward obtaining a GED and offers life-coaching, as well as providing an overnight drop-in shelter.

Asked about why this meal service is important, Ken Jernberg, Crosswalk head teacher for the past 30 years, says, “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. But with all of these churches helping provide meals, the kids' days no longer have to be interrupted.”

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

Over the years, the monthly UCC outreach has passed from department to department but has continued without interruption. Staff of KEEH-FM, the Positive Life Radio station in Spokane, were even allowed to host a weekly youth group for more than a year, with five to seven kids attending regularly. The kids played games, answered trivia questions for prizes and watched the Matthew Videos, a series of DVDs about Jesus. GLOW (Giving Light to Our World) tracts are also shared as part of the regular monthly outreach.

The teens' language can be coarse. and the kids often appear rough on the exterior. But once the team members relax, they gradually realize most of these kids are just hungering for encouragement, kindness and a chance to experience healthy relationships.

One highlight of the outreach experience was that a young adult shelter volunteer started coming back to church due to the friendship he and his wife made with members of the KEEH team. Sadly, a few months later he passed away, but the team will always gratefully ponder what part they were able to play in Jesus bringing this man back to His “fold” shortly before his untimely death. Sometimes the best way to be used by God is just showing up and being available.    

Tiffany Neil, the current team meal coordinator, shares why she keeps the outreach going: “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. 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.

Featured in: February 2016