O ak Harbor’s SPIN Café is about to get the spin cycle it was always supposed to have.
And wash and rinse. And also a commercial kitchen. And covered outside seating. Oh, and also among the best water-view dining in town.
SPIN – an acronym for Supporting People In Need – began 12 years ago as the brainchild of Vivian Rogers Decker, a student support specialist with Oak Harbor schools. Decker and a group of volunteers began in 2012 by renting 1,800 square feet of musty space on Bayshore Drive.
At the time, it was stuffed with storage.
Today, SPIN serves dinner to as many as 80 hungry, often homeless or impoverished people every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. And during the daytime hours, it functions as a drop-in spot, warming shelter and vocational training and resource center.
THAT WASN’T exactly what Decker originally envisioned seven years ago, however. She simply wanted to set up a place where people living in or near poverty and lacking even enough money to use coin-op washers and dryers could do their laundry for free (hence the “spin” name), maybe take a shower, have a snack and find out about resources and job training opportunities.
She had learned through her work with impoverished students that having money to do laundry was often a major hurdle; it may cost $5 or more to do just one load at a coin-op laundry. A family might need $80 a month or more to wear clean clothes — money they often don’t have.
UNFORTUNATELY, when Decker and volunteers went looking for a “laundry spot” at an affordable rent, the best they could find was one big, dark room at 656 S.E. Bayshore that didn’t have the wiring and plumbing needed for washers, dryers and showers — or a kitchen.
In fact, it had almost nothing inside.
“So, I said, maybe we’ll do other things here and hope for grants to do a major renovation,” Decker said.
That never happened.
SPIN did, however, quickly become a popular spot for homeless people, who often congregate outdoors at nearby Flintstone Park, to hang out and find out about jobs and vocational training.
Then local churches started bringing food for them. Before long, hot meals at dinnertime were offered, cooked in church kitchens and served by volunteers from local churches and organizations such as the Lions and Rotary.
But still no free laundry; the best they could do was seek donations to buy tokens or cards accepted at the commercial coin-op laundries. Often, that wasn’t enough.
“The first of the month, when many of our folks receive whatever income they get, we’ll serve dinner to 50 or so people, but by the end of the month when the money’s gone it’ll be 80or more, which really is our capacity,” she said.
These days, SPIN is often very crowded, with people waiting outside in the rain and the cold before they are served.
“Some people who really should be coming to SPIN won’t do it because they see people sitting, smoking and lined up outdoors before mealtime,” she said. There is stigma associated with homelessness and poverty, she added. Some people are comfortable living in this kind of “transition,” as Decker prefers to call it, but others are not.
FAST-FORWARD to mid-2018. A member of Decker’s SPIN board of directors, who asked not to be identified in this story, purchased a 70-year-old building facing Pioneer Way that houses the Sweet Rice Café and an empty office space beside it.
Underneath, facing Bayshore Drive, is more than 3,600 square feet of currently empty space that has been chopped up through the years to house a beauty salon, an accounting office, knitting goods store and even a small living space without a bedroom.
The generous benefactor has offered that “underneath” space at 840 S.E. Bayshore to SPIN rent-free for 20 years and will even donate the rent from the Pioneer Way tenants to SPIN. He will also pay to give the building’s exterior a needed facelift.
Decker and her board contacted Coupeville architect Stig Carlson, who drew plans for an extensive, down-to-the studs interior remodel of the lower space and an eye-catching and appealing design for the exterior, including an upper deck that will provide covered outdoor seating below.
Inside, there will be a commercial kitchen and dining area that seats 72; that means SPIN can cook all food on-site instead of using church kitchens, offer dinner hopefully seven days a week and serve perhaps 140 or more per night with two seatings.
“We will be able to offer great vocational training in our kitchen for those seeking work in the food industry, which provides entry-level jobs for many people,” she said.
The kitchen will have a paid cook staff with volunteers continuing to serve the meals.
“It’s a great design with tables mostly for two or four people – no big institutional seating, no long lines at a steam table,” she said “From the beginning, we have always seated people and served them, which maintains the privacy, dignity and respect we want to show at SPIN,” she said.
Next to the kitchen/dining area will be an office, drop-in spot and resource center to help people get on their feet. It will be staffed by a paid social worker and volunteers. And—drum roll, please—the drop-in spot will have two commercial washers and dryers and a shower. Decker’s original vision will finally be realized.
Now all she needs is enough money to make it happen. SPIN has about $60,000 in the bank and is counting on about $375,000 in grants it applied for. But it’s still short at least $50,000. And SPIN will still depend on the community to donate most of the food.
Decker, ever optimistic, isn’t too worried. She’s seen how the North Whidbey community came together to support SPIN over the past seven years.
And the new SPIN will be so much better. She plans to hold open houses to show off the new space once it’s gutted but before construction begins.
Decker wants the community to see the potential and, hopefully, contribute to make it a reality. If all goes well, the new SPIN Café will open next October.
“We want SPIN to be a ‘pay-what-you-can’ restaurant where everybody will want to come because the food’s so good,” she said.
“And we’ll also have that incredible water view, too. That’s how you build community – make a great spot that brings people of all backgrounds and circumstances together.”