Walla Walla’s Christian Aid Center offers hope

Alethea Buchal

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The Christian Aid Center, serving food to low-income and homeless people in the Walla Walla area, is just like a school cafeteria: serving the same plastic trays with the little squares for milk boxes and the typical mashed potato slop I had abandoned after middle school.

By the time  Matt Manley: my co-columnist: and I  arrived for dinner, they were already clearing chairs away from the tables and families were packing up what little belongings they owned to leave.

We tried to sit down by two men wearing oil-smeared workman’s clothes, but as soon as they saw me, one immediately stood.

“She can’t sit here.”

“What?” I asked, surprised.

I hadn’t really considered the concept of gender separation, since, well, kindergarten.

The cafeteria was separated into females on one side and males on the other, but since most people ended up leaving anyway, including the two men who told us about the rule, we ended up sitting on the female side. Matt didn’t really seem to mind.

Men and women are separated due to religious concerns, but we were able to break the rule because we came in right as dinner was closing.

The Christian Aid Center offers bible studies, resource referrals, shelter for Walla Walla’s homeless and both breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and dinner at 5:30 p.m. daily. When we asked the kitchen coordinator, Monika Dowing, why she works there, she explained the Center’s impact on her own life.

Growing up in West Germany as a refuge from East Germany, Monika moved to the United States after marrying an American soldier. She became an alcoholic and eventually homeless. One cold fall evening, she attended a church service at the Center and decided to stay.

“It took me two weeks before I even came to the dining hall,” she confessed, pulling her blond curly locks away from her glasses.

Dowing said that if she could tell Whitman students anything about the Christian Aid Center, she would talk about homelessness.

“I believe in open restoration: whoever comes here, this is what they get. Anyone can come here. When I came here the very, very first thing they treated me as a person . . . They didn’t care about my past they just accepted me as Monika. You know, you kind of create your own little world and you thinking people are judging you, but when I came here I no longer felt this.”

She felt accepted for who she was, regardless of being homeless and an alcoholic.

And that’s what the Christian Aid Center does. It accepts whoever comes to its doors and helps them begin a new life.

Dowing wasn’t the only one with whom Matt and I spoke. One of the residents came by as we were eating and talked about how much he loved music and how he had crowd-surfed at a Tom Petty concert.

“Tom Petty’s bomb!” he said, spinning his broom as he swept beneath the tables.

The Christian Aid Center has 28 regular groups that come in and volunteer every five weeks, including one from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Once a month, they have open spots for volunteers to come in and serve.

If you’ve got time at 5:30 p.m. one night and want to help serve food, hear some great life stories or just want to try a meal beyond the typical Jewett, Prentiss or Reid fare, check out the Christian Aid Center  on 202 W. Birch St.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll even end up jamming to some Tom Petty songs or speaking in German.