Making a positive change in the Spokane community is easier than you might think, and all it takes is helping to cook homemade meals or taking a few hours to deliver those meals to individuals in need. Gonzaga students can do just that by getting involved with Meals in the Margins.
Meals in the Margins was created during finals week of the fall 2019 semester, when Kayla Kim, a recent GU graduate and now GU campus minister with Intervarsity, was moved to action during her sociology capstone class. Her professor mentioned how the dropping temperatures meant some houseless individuals might not make it through the night, due to most shelters not being open yet or having limited capacities, and Kim realized she and other students had the power to do something about it.
Kim spoke with her friend Bassel Mufarreh, who also graduated this past year, about her idea to purchase blankets, hand warmers, gloves and other items for houseless individuals.
From there, they dreamed beyond just delivering care packages, to preparing warm food and sitting with those individuals to have conversations and hear their stores, Kim said.
“As much as a warm meal is probably appreciated and fills a tangible need, there’s something just deeper about sticking around for a conversation,” Kim said.
Kim and Mufarreh gathered up some of their friends, and it only grew bigger from there. By the time they were ready to start the project, they had over 40 volunteers and a Venmo campaign set up.
One of those volunteers was Michael Larson, a senior sociology major minoring in solidarity and social justice and leadership studies. Larson participated by bringing meals to houseless individuals and having conversations with them.
“It’s a really humbling experience, and also made me realize that these are just people,” Larson said.
Kim said she and Mufarreh planned to do Meals in the Margins again in the spring 2020 semester, but just as they started having conversations about getting it started again, school was shut down due to COVID-19.
This summer, Larson approached Kim about continuing Meals in the Margins this school year.
“I was just really honored that he saw that as something he wanted to continue,” Kim said.
Starting in August, Larson began running Meals in the Margins three times a week, serving in three locations, he said. When school began, he set up a fundraiser and raised over $1,500 for Meals in the Margins.
Meals in the Margins now serves twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Students living in the Logan Neighborhood can volunteer their house to host the preparation of meals and care packages, and anyone can volunteer to be a part of the outreach team as well, Larson said.
Anyone can also donate to the Meals in the Margins Venmo account (@MIM-zag), and whatever is not used this semester will carry over into the next.
Also helping Larson run Meals in the Margins this year is Abigail Chen, a senior majoring in special education with a certification in biology. Chen was also a part of the original group of volunteers who first got Meals in the Margins started back in December.
Chen said she is overseeing the day-to-day operations of Meals in the Margins, while Larson is focused on larger systemic change and growing the presence of Meals in the Margins both on campus and in the Spokane community.
Chen purchases food and brings it to the houses that volunteer to cook meals, and explains to them the mission of Meals in the Margins, how to put together the care packages and why their work is important.
“I think it is our moral obligation to help the most vulnerable members of society, and homelessness is a global, worldwide human tragedy, but if we work together, we can make just a little part of Spokane a better place for everyone,” Chen said.
Larson said he is working on starting a club focused on service called Love in Action, and he plans on making Meals in the Margins a committee of that club to ensure that it will live on for years to come. Larson also has plans to create a documentary to share the stories of some of the people he has met through Meals in the Margins.
For Larson, Meals in the Margins is important because it involves breaking down stereotypes about the houseless, sharing moments and having conversations with the people he serves.
“After doing this for quite a bit now, I think it all comes back to relationships," Larson said. "Service is only a bridge to build relationships with the people that we serve and that’s been proven over and over again these past few weeks."
Chen also said Meals in the Margins is important because we are in a position to help and because many houseless individuals do not have access to basic resources that we often take for granted.
“We all are humans and we share the same experience— we all get hungry and are cold and need someone to understand us,” Chen said.
For Kim, she said she hopes Meals in the Margins becomes a larger outpouring of love into the community, and she hopes to see change at the personal, communal and systemic levels.
“At the end of it all, we are just more human and more compassionate and gentle and kind to each other, and so I think the hope is that this work will continue to do small shifts in people’s hearts,” Kim said.