Serving up hope: Spin Cafe offers place to eat, chat for those in need in Island County

Sharen Rivera, a volunteer with Spin Cafe, prepares broccoli, potato and bacon soup at the First United Methodist Church.  - Photos by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Sharen Rivera, a volunteer with Spin Cafe, prepares broccoli, potato and bacon soup at the First United Methodist Church.
— image credit: Photos by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Scott Sayre lifts a spoon from a steaming pot of potato, broccoli and bacon soup, takes a sip and senses something isn’t right.

“You can taste the bacon,” Sayre said. “Let’s put a little more broccoli in there.”

Sayre was one of six volunteers busy preparing meals in the kitchen of the Oak Harbor First United Methodist Church Thursday.

Sachie Sutterluey and Hidemi Dettman stood side by side, chopping broccoli and mixing raisins for broccoli salad.

It’s a routine the group repeats two afternoons a week to provide free nutritious meals for people in need at a unique soup kitchen downtown called the Spin Cafe.

“This is how we do it — from scratch with fresh ingredients,” Sayre said. “It’s labor intensive.

“One of the really hard things to find (at soup kitchens) is good food. You can get a lot of processed food. We are trying to differentiate ourselves from other soup kitchens.”

And they are in many ways.

Less than two hours after preparing the food Thursday, it was transported and served at Spin Cafe, which is located near the bus terminal on Bayshore Drive.

A steady stream of guests came in, sat at a table and gave their orders to servers who greeted them.

Among the guests was a father and his three young daughters.

Some of the visitors, including Daniel Glaefke, 60, were homeless.

“People come in and are treated like people,” Glaefke said.

The restaurant-style concept was one of many ideas founder Vivian Rogers-Decker thought of when she dreamed up Spin Cafe and opened its doors in July.

The original plan that gave the cafe its name was to create a place for the homeless and others in need in Island County to do their laundry at no cost.

Although that remains in the plans, laundry service hasn’t materialized yet.

What has evolved instead is the restaurant-style cafe that serves meals from 4-6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and also is open to the public for a warm place to sit, socialize, snack and sip a beverage from noon-4 p.m. Saturdays.

Community donations help pay for the food and building rental and food is donated.

“It’s not all about the food for us, although the food is wonderful,” said Lori Bowdish, who comes to the Spin Cafe with her fiance Brian Kilpatrick. “We really enjoy helping out here and helping with the garden down the street.”

The garden represents Spin Cafe taking things to another level.

Called the Imagine Permaculture Food Forest, it is designed to be a sustainable garden that will help provide fresh food for Spin Cafe.

Volunteer work parties have been meeting on Saturdays this winter to prepare the donated land near Hal Ramaley Park for an elaborate plan that includes nine layers of edible companion plant groups from fruit and nut trees at the top to a strawberry patch ground cover.

Weather permitting, volunteers will start building the foundation of a cob wall at 10 a.m. today, March 1, that will serve as a windbreak for the garden.

The project is expected to take two years to come to fruition.

“We’ll start small,” said Netsah Zylinsky, a Spin Cafe board member who is spearheading the food forest project. “Eventually, it will run on its own and be sustainable. It will provide food for lifetimes to come.”

The food forest is an example of Rogers-Decker’s original idea for Spin Cafe branching out into new directions.

At its heart, Spin Cafe is a nonprofit “community engagement center,” said Rogers-Decker, who doesn’t like to use the term “soup kitchen.”

Its location behind the Island Transit Harbor Station transfer center on Bayshore Drive was “very deliberate,” providing easier access for those in need throughout Island County, Rogers-Decker said.

“We exist to serve people in need,” said Rogers-Decker, who is the student and family support specialist and homeless liaison for the Oak Harbor School District. “Some are homeless. It’s very broad.”

Glaefke, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam, estimated there are 125-150 homeless people in and around Oak Harbor.

“For some of these people, this is the only meal they get two times a week,” Glaefke said.

Glaefke enjoys the conversations, the food and the chance to rest.

“After walking around all week, your body’s all beat up,” he said. “You spend a couple days recuperating.”

Sayre empathizes.

For a brief time in his life, he, too, was homeless.

He got involved with Spin Cafe and saw his life change. He’s now a board member.

“For me, coming in to volunteer and help out and give back at a time when I was not in the best position I’ve ever been, it turned out well,” Sayre said. “I think that’s the kind of thing you want to believe happens in the world, that if you help other people, other people will help you. That’s really what this is all about.

“By maybe making a few selfless acts, I got a whole lot back in return.”


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