County executive, staff serve meals at Everett shelter

EVERETT — When John Lovick preaches the value of serving the public as Snohomish County executive, serving plates of hot food isn’t generally what he has in mind.

But that’s exactly what Lovick and about a dozen members of his government staff did Tuesday. They headed to the Everett Gospel Mission men’s shelter to help during lunch.

Lovick donned an apron with the words “Real Men Fry Turkeys” to wait and bus tables. Public works director Steve Thomsen, parks director Tom Teigen and human resources director Bridget Clawson, among others, each attended to tables in the shelter’s cafeteria, where about 100 guests lunched that day. Rather than lining up at the cafeteria counter, the shelter guests got to relax, while the upper echelons of county government brought them plates of food.

“A lot of people do a lot of things during the holiday season but there are a lot of hungry people out there all of the time,” Lovick said. “It just feels good to give back.”

The community outreach is something Lovick has pledged to do regularly. Quietly, Lovick for years has gathered up day-old pastries on his way to work to deliver them to the shelter.

It’s something he did during his time as sheriff, and something he continued this year, after becoming county executive.

The men’s shelter on Smith Avenue, next to I-5, is one of four facilities run by Everett Gospel Mission. It provides about 170 beds, divided between temporary shelter and transitional housing. Anyone’s welcome for daily lunches and dinners.

“What we’re seeing today is our county executive, and his friends and his co-workers, saying that, ‘We see you, you’re a part of our community, you matter to us,’” said Sylvia Anderson, the mission’s CEO. “People feel valued when that happens.”

The men’s shelter typically has all the volunteers it needs to serve Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Help dwindles, for the most part, during the other 50 weeks of the year. An exception is Advent Lutheran Church in Mill Creek, whose members show up regularly, including Tuesday.

Around the tables, men shared stories of trying to find steady work and affordable housing.

After eating a meal served by planning director Clay White, Andrew Israel, 44, said he welcomed the gesture of kindness. Israel said human nature is to care about other people.

“You can give somebody clothes, you can give somebody food, but if you don’t give them compassion, a smile, that’s the most contagious thing in the world,” he said.

Now disabled, Israel said he used to work in catering, giving him a special appreciation for what it’s like to wait tables.

Many in the room openly described troubles battling drug and alcohol addiction.

Jacob Smith, 23, is ready to move beyond his life using heroin. The outgoing, burly man with an oversize backpack said he’s a hard worker who’s eager for a steady job.

Smith wants to move back to see friends and family in Kentucky. He has dreams of taming horses back there, or of becoming a stand-up comedian.

“This is Jacob at the Everett Mission,” Smith said. “He wants to go home to Kentucky and go break horses.”

Another diner made a sly observation: that government officials were serving pork for lunch. Pork loin to be exact. The menu included an alternate choice of chicken, along with diet soda, water or coffee to drink.

Pork jokes aside, county human services director Ken Stark said talking to shelter guests reaffirmed what’s he’s learned while overseeing the county’s social services safety net: Needs far outstrip resources. Federal and state programs need to be leaner, to stretch a limited amount of dollars to the maximum number of people.

“We’re spending way too much money on administrative services and not enough on direct services,” he said.

Stark said his conversations with shelter guests drove home the shortage of affordable housing: “You’d be surprised at all of the people in the shelter who are employed, but they’re not earning enough to survive.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

How to help

To donate time to the Everett Gospel Mission, email volunteer coordinator Jonathan Anderson at janderson@egmission.org.

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