Sound Off: SPiN Cafe creates vital sense of community

SPiN Cafe has been active in Oak Harbor since 2012. Our mission statement sums up goals that guide us in serving homeless and other struggling people on Whidbey Island.

“To meet the basic needs of food, shelter and offer a sense of self-worth to the vulnerable people in our community.”

The hard work of volunteers, staff and financial supporters help us meet our mission and have an impact on lives in our area. The majority of our efforts are in assuring our guests get shelter and food at SPiN Cafe.

Meeting our guests’ physical needs is only the first step for those living on the edge in our community. Our mission pushes us to help them meet higher goals of humanity. Self-worth and belonging mean that we need to provide them with tools to help them fit back into the community.

I will use myself as an example. My story is like many in Oak Harbor. Our professions brought us to the Island, but the people we met here brought us into community. I came as a stranger, but I am part of Oak Harbor because of the friends and neighbors I have gained all over Whidbey Island. The work that brought me here helped me meet my family’s needs of food and shelter, while relationships support and confirm me as a friend and neighbor to others. This helps me to self-actualize my life through the people I come in contact with.

It strikes me that funerals act as a reminder of who I am in a community. At a memorial for a friend, it is not simply that we mourn them. It also brings us into the life of the friend we knew. Sharing stories and experiences with other friends gathered at a memorial validates our humanity. Hearing stories told, we gain a fuller picture of our loved one. In so doing, we become part of a greater whole.

A few weeks ago, SPiN Cafe witnessed a memorial celebration and remembrance of one of our guests. Staff, volunteers and guests who knew this gentleman attended. He was a fellow that came into SPiN Cafe seeking food and shelter. He found that SPiN Cafe offered more than a sandwich and coffee and a roof over his head. He found community with other guests, and support and encouragement from SPiN volunteers and staff.

It occurred to me that the memorial service that day was special. The room was crammed full of people who knew our friend. With sixty or so people present, the memorial was an authentic community. Many came forward to testify to the life of our friend. One person after another spoke about their friend in love and honesty. He was not perfect, and the people who gathered for the memorial were willing to describe his faults in a way I have never heard in other services. Several speakers used the moment to talk about our friend’s difficulty with addiction. They reminded the gathered guests that addiction needs to be faced in their lives as well. Humans are capable of both good and bad, and how they face their own addictions comes from making daily choices.

All people need community to attain self-worth, find their inner strengths, and overcome their demons. I am so glad SPiN Cafe is there to offer moments such as this memorial service to empower its guests. Without SPiN’s ability to create community, our friend might not have been remembered.

As John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

Marc Stroud is SPiN’s board president and associate pastor at Oak Harbor Lutheran Church.