‘We are our brother’s keeper’: Local merchant aids homeless in Kent

Nearly 50 homeless people arrived for a free hot meal of ham and mashed potatoes on a rainy Thursday night at a business parking lot along Railroad Avenue South in downtown Kent.

Brian Raynes

Brian Raynes

Nearly 50 homeless people arrived for a free hot meal of ham and mashed potatoes on a rainy Thursday night at a business parking lot along Railroad Avenue South in downtown Kent.

Many of the hungry and homeless in Kent know that at 6 p.m. every Thursday they can eat a hot meal. About 20 volunteers have provided the meals for nearly a year, as a way to reach out to people in need.

“They’re doing a great job for the homeless,” said one Kent man, who didn’t give his name, but who lives in a motor home and has eaten the Thursday dinners for the past six months.

Kent small-business owner Brian Raynes spearheads what he calls, “Make a Difference.” The dinner is served in the parking lot of the B & T auto detail shop that Raynes runs at 416 Railroad Avenue S.

As many as 70 people have shown up for the meals and the numbers always increase near the end of each month as people start to run out of money.

“It helps them a lot and gives them a hot meal,” said Rev. Danny Buswell of Greater Things Ministries of Kent.

Buswell attends the meals each Thursday to help let the homeless know what other services are available to help them. He said overnight stays are available for men on a rotating basis at local churches. He said no overnight shelter is available for women in Kent.

“The numbers are going up,” Buswell said of the impact of a struggling economy on the weekly dinners. “And some of these people live out in the woods, under bridges or maybe five or six stay together in a RV.”

Another business down the street used to offer the Thursday dinners before it no longer was able to offer the service. That’s when Raynes and friend Mark Elmore decided to offer the dinners.

“Nobody else stepped up to do it,” Raynes said. “And we are our brother’s keeper.”

Turnouts were low the first few weeks.

“We just had a couple of tables and served burritos the first night,” Raynes said. “Then we started to grow. A couple of Thursdays ago we had 70 people. We had 18 people the first time.”

Raynes raises money for the dinners by picking up scrap metal at businesses in Kent, Auburn and Covington. He then takes the scrap to recycling centers and uses the money he receives to buy food.

“But I can’t do it on my own,” Raynes said. “There are many others who help. Too many to name.”

Among those who help out are Sue Froyd, owner of Maggie’s on Meeker restaurant and the Bittersweet restaurant, each in downtown Kent. Froyd’s restaurants cook the meals, which range from hamburgers to spaghetti to shepherd’s pie.

Kelly Carroll, who operates R Place of Refuge, a Kent-based nonprofit group that helps people in need, delivers fresh fruit, vegetables as well as bread and juice each week to the Thursday dinner. She picks up the food items from several food distributors.

“And they can take the extra food with them back to their camps,” said Carroll, who met Raynes last year and agreed to help out with the meals.

Carroll and Raynes also are planning to distribute backpacks to the homeless on Thanksgiving that will contain items such as a blanket, flashlight, batteries, hats, gloves and toothpaste.

Volunteers also pick up clothes at moving and yard sales, and store them in a room at Raynes’ business. He’ll then invite the local homeless in a few at a time to find any clothes they might need.

B & Y Granite Kitchens, the neighboring business to Raynes, also helps out each week by providing money and parking-lot space.

After Thanksgiving, Raynes plans to operate a Christmas tree lot at the corner of Willis Street and Railroad Avenue to raise more money for the weekly dinners.

“It might be the only good home-cooked meal they get all week,” Raynes said. “To see the smiles on their faces, it’s a win-win situation. As long as I get help and can afford to do it, I’ll keep doing it.”

The homeless and hungry in downtown Kent also can get a free hot meal from 5-6 p.m. Mondays at Kent Lutheran Church, 336 Second Ave. S. The church has offered the meals every week since 1983.

For more information on how to donate scrap metal, clothes or money to Make a Difference to fund the Thursday dinners, call Brian Raynes at 253-332-8010.

For donations to R. Place of Refuge, call Kelly Carroll at 206-255-1178 or send an e-mail to rplaceofrefuge@comcast.net.

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