CAST is a hidden gem needing help, to help - Salish Current
December 11, 2023
CAST is a hidden gem needing help, to help
John Dunne

CAST food distribution volunteers including Bob Andrews and Jane Jansen, at left, and Carol Lo, Roshni Jokhi and others provide food to an unhoused woman staying at Base Camp. (Photo courtesy George Mustoe)

December 11, 2023
CAST is a hidden gem needing help, to help
John Dunne

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

I first encountered CAST (Coffee and Sandwiches Together) when I was asked to sponsor their grant request to my Rotary Club. Since I didn’t know anything about this organization, I set out to learn more. 

I quickly learned from George Mustoe, who has been with CAST since 2006, that CAST serves bottled water, sandwiches, bagels, granola bars, apples, bananas and Cup O’ Soups to unhoused people and to those who are housed but food-insecure, at Bellingham’s Arch of Healing and Reconciliation (which was built in the aftermath of persecution of the Sikh minority during the early 20th century). 

Depending on donations, they are sometimes able to dispense personal hygiene items, such as disposable razors, soap bars and feminine hygiene products. During winter months, they try to provide warming items, such as gloves and socks. They serve 45–70 people daily during the winter months and up to 100 individuals during the summer, four days a week. There has been a recent surge of people being served after Base Camp stopped providing food for non-residents. They omitted Tuesdays when the First Baptist Church nearby provided a meal but that program has recently been discontinued.

CAST was started in 1999 by Pastor Dick Christianson of Faith Lutheran Church, who placed baskets in the center aisle and asked parishioners to donate spare change to feed the homeless. Sue Bloomquist and Karen Lyons took on managing this very humble beginning by serving food on Tuesdays. The management was passed to Mary Ann O’Hara who moved the program to St. John’s Lutheran Church and established an affiliation with the Interfaith Coalition, which now manages their finances.

The Interfaith Coalition consists of 42 Whatcom County congregations who provide some regular financial assistance. While many of the volunteers are associated with local congregations, the organization is secular and welcomes all volunteers. [Ed.: Corrected to clarify: congregations of multiple faiths were involved in founding and continue to support CAST.]

This program hit some rough spots during the pandemic. CAST had been storing and preparing the sandwiches and organizing the food at the Bellingham Ukrainian Church until an arsonist destroyed it in 2001. CAST lost everything but continued by using a tent in a volunteer’s backyard to store their supplies. They never missed a feeding.

CAST food prep volunteers ready sandwiches and other foods for distribution; from left, Lucas Darrow, Liz Darrow, Diana Herman, Bob Jacobsen and Helen Jacobsen. (Photo courtesy George Mustoe)

However, the pandemic took a toll on volunteers. Food distribution was reduced to three days a week because of the shortage of volunteers.

Janie Pemble, with George Mustoe’s assistance, reorganized CAST. She established a board of directors, chaired by Frank McIntyre. This year they have been able to expand food distribution to four days a week as more volunteers returned.

CAST has very loyal volunteers, many of whom have been with the program for years. The volunteers are split into two teams. Dan Larguier organizes the food prep team at St. John’s Lutheran Church and Diane Heiman assigns the volunteers for the food handout. 

CAST has no paid staff. They have no corporate sponsorships or government grants. They rely on the largess of people like you and me to support their ongoing operations. As you might imagine, they are constantly short of funds. Often volunteers chip in to buy supplies and fresh food to make up for the shortfall. George told me that he buys 80 pounds of bananas every week.  As much as they would like to expand to five days a week to fill the void on Tuesdays, CAST does not have the financial resources to support the additional day, especially since the demand for food is growing. 

This hidden gem needs to be brought into the light of public support. The Interfaith Coalition serves as their financial sponsor and accepts contributions online

— Contributed by John Dunne

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