The women at Pine Lake Covenant Church in Sammamish gave up a holiday tradition this year in favor of starting one for those in need.
For more than 10 years, the church has been hosting a Christmas lunch for women parishioners to gather and relax, but on Saturday Dec. 13, that same lunch was dedicated to women in transitional housing and homeless shelters as the Spirit of Christmas Luncheon.
“We were having a meeting two years ago, talking about outreach and what that meant, and I just felt that we were missing something,” said Tiffany LaMonte, event coordinator and church member.
After attending a similar lunch held by Proverbs 31:20 Ministries, a Bothell-based group that helps homeless women and families throughout Snohomish and King Counties, LaMonte said Pine Lake Covenant Church found its inspiration for what exactly outreach was.
“I just felt like this is what we were called to do, that this was the direction we were supposed to go,” she said.
LaMonte applied for two available grants from the North Pacific Conference, a regional conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and received both to fund the Spirit of Christmas Luncheon.
That funding paid for a catered lunch, transportation, and children’s activities, among other things.
Church members brought the lunch to life though, by volunteering to serve food, watch children, decorate and donate their time, and in some cases, their family china.
“We just want these women to feel reached out to, and to feel loved,” LaMonte said. “We want them to know they’re not alone in the community.”
Approximately 45 women and their children from 65 shelters across the Eastside attended the luncheon. The church had three buses on loan from Bellevue Christian High School to pick them up, along with a score of churchgoers who volunteered their cars.
Volunteers set up for the event the day before, decorating each table with holiday-themed settings, and placing small Christmas trees around the room.
Tawni Van Wageningen, a church member who donated her grandmother’s china, volunteered to be a table captain for the lunch, which meant she was available to fetch anything needed, and to facilitate conversation among guests.
“It’s just such a fun idea,” she said. “And really special to me. If it wasn’t for my neighbor inviting me to these lunches, I wouldn’t be a Christian. So a little lunch can really impact your life.”
More than 100 volunteers offered their services at the luncheon. Each table had a captain, and about 20 men acted as servers.
“We’ll take care of it all,” LaMonte said. “We don’t want these women to have to lift anything, except maybe a fork.”
Other volunteers watched the 50 children in the church’s gym, where they played in a Bouncy House, received balloon animals and had their faces painted.
The church also sponsored a Christmas store where children chose gifts for their mothers. Members donated brand new items such as perfume and purses, and each child picked out and wrapped something to give as a gift.
“Kids love to receive gifts, but they really love to give them,” LaMonte said. “To go in there and pick out something that makes Mom feel special is great.”
One of her favorite moments from the lunch happened in the Christmas store. A young boy was looking at a bottle of perfume to give to his mother, but then put it back and told her he had no money.
“To hear that was just such a gift, because he didn’t need any,” LaMonte said. “He was so happy to be able to give her this.”
Overall, the lunch was a huge success, and LaMonte said it’s something the church plans to continue in the future.
Sharon Anderson, pastor of adult ministries at the church, echoed that sentiment and said that a long term goal of the church would be to form partnerships with the shelters so that outreach programs like the luncheon can become more frequent.
“It’s just a peaceful, relaxing time, where (the women) can realize that the community loves them, and they’re not alone,” she said. “We want to continue this as a long term commitment to them.”