Barb Upson and Catherine Moore, financial secretary and president of the board for Faith Café, help prepare tables for guests.
Barb Upson and Catherine Moore, financial secretary and president of the board for Faith Café, help prepare tables for guests.

Distant harmonies from the 80-person I Sing Choir, rehearsing in the Bethel United Church of Christ sanctuary in Beaverton for an upcoming program, floated into the church’s hall on Sunday afternoon, April 19. It seemed an appropriate soundtrack as Faith Café volunteers readied for their tenth anniversary dinner.

Members of the soup kitchen’s board, cooks from St. Juan Diego Parish, and a variety of other supporters who simply couldn’t stay away were cooking in the kitchen and setting the tables with roses and cream.

The dinners are always good at the Faith Café—they’re cooked in turn by teams from ten area churches that collaborate on the ministry—but this one was going to be spectacular.

Annie Cuggino of The Veritable Quandary Restaurant was bringing the entrée, boneless beef short ribs, braised with balsamic and orange zest.

San Juan Diego’s cooks had the brown sugar-glazed carrots, rice pilaf, and cheesecake with blueberry sauce well in hand. Not to mention the salad of spring greens, dried cranberries, candied pecans and balsamic vinaigrette.

“We’re usually going crazy about now,” laughed Lisa Cato, head chef from San Juan Diego’s team. “But since Annie is bringing the these wonderful ribs, we’ve got breathing room.”

A part of the fun on this night was that this elegant dinner would be a surprise for the café’s regular diners.

Board members from the different churches that participate in the café were enjoying each other’s company.

“We’re the junior varsity Catholics,” joked Dave Petersen of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, as he stood chatting with Allan Wells of St. Pius X.

St. Matthew Lutheran Church’s Faith Café group serves a Saturday Faith Café lunch every week.

The other nine faith groups in the coalition take turns serving guests dinner on Sunday evenings. They usually feed about 80 people.

“God can do it all, but it’s fortunate for us that he wants us to be his hands and feet,” said Petersen. “It fills you.”

“This is a great way to serve,” agreed Wells. “We hope we’re doing good but in addition, this is a fun group. Everyone pitches in and they’re happy.”

Faith Café began in 2004 when Father John Kerns brought together social justice committees from the five churches of the Beaverton Vicariate: St. Cecilia, Holy Trinity, St. Pius X, St. John Fisher and the new St. Juan Diego.

“He asked us what were social justice issues we couldn’t address as an individual parish but could do together,” said Catherine Moore, a parishioner at St. Juan Diego Parish and the Faith Café board president.

Hunger was the number two issue for the group, and Father Kerns asked a committee to look into what could be done.

The group discovered that there were plenty of food pantries but no soup kitchen between Portland and Hillsboro. “I said, ‘we can do that,’” remembered Barb Upson, current financial secretary on the board and the person many people credit with playing the key role in starting the café.

Upson shakes her head at how naïve she’d been.

“But that’s the way things get done,” Moore said. “People don’t realize how hard something can be, and so they just jump in.”

The café was at Beaverton United Methodist Church for seven years. For the past three, Bethel United Church of Christ has hosted. The volunteer crews are from the five vicariate churches, St. Matthew Lutheran Church, the Latter Day Saints, the Filipino Catholic Community, the Cedar Hills United Church of Christ and Bethel United Church of Christ.

Sarah DiCarlo, secretary of the Faith Café board, said that she enjoys sitting down with the guests. “We worry when there’s someone missing. But they’re a real community; they usually know where that person is.”

DiCarlo says that in addition to volunteers, the vicariate parishes are also generous in funding the café—as is Techtronics, the Latter Day Saints, and others. Those funds pay for food and allow the group to give vouchers to guests who have special needs.

“What I’ve most come to realize in the last couple years is the importance of relationships,” said Matt Cato, a St. Juan Diego parishioner who serves on the board and is also the director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. “We’re not just serving a meal, we’re in conversation.”

Like many volunteers, Cato admitted he was uncomfortable at first talking with some of the guests. That discomfort has passed.

“It’s a safe place for our parishioners to reach out and connect with people they’d never otherwise talk with,” said Upton. “They can sit down, have a conversation, and feel compassion and understanding.”

By 4:45 p.m. there was already a line of people waiting for Faith Café’s door to open at 5 p.m.

Kim Sahnow, the group’s only paid staffer, said afterwards that board members had put their hearts into the dinner’s details and that the guests noticed.

At the end of the night, one older woman gave Sahnow a hug and praised the meal. “It was like climbing into a feather bed that you never want to climb out of,” the woman said.