■ By Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor
Pastor Erin Armstrong has a passion for homeless ministry that just can’t be ignored. The “Open Table” meal program at Trinity Lutheran Church is a true community effort. Several churches of different denominations work together to provide lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. to people in need. Pastor Erin Armstrong has been at Trinity Lutheran since November 2016 and she inherited the program in June.
The women serving lunch on the day of The Valley Chronicle’s first visit were from Good Shepherd Episcopal church.
The entire meal program has been going on for 15 years, according to Armstrong. The program is different from most in that it does not require background checks on recipients. If you need a meal, then you have a meal – no questions asked. The program serves about 15-20 people per day, says Armstrong. The numbers were higher – about 35 people per day – when the program was at First Presbyterian mainly due to its proximity near downtown.
During the newspaper’s first visit, we noticed how patrons were familiar with Armstrong and asked for resources to help them get back on their feet – something that she is very committed to seeing through. Armstrong did her training in the bay area at a church specializing in homeless outreach.
The newspaper’s second visit came with some good news. One man, Nick, who utilizes the meal program, told Armstrong that he got a job at Amazon, but unfortunately, his bus pass was stolen. Armstrong was not going to let that get in the way and made sure he got another one. Armstrong reminded Nick, “I told you that if you got a job, I would help you get there.”
First Presbyterian, the church closer to downtown, provided the meal program prior to Trinity Lutheran but the church sold the hall that housed its industrial kitchen. Trinity Lutheran is one of the few churches around with an industrial kitchen. Rev. Kent Leydens of First Presbyterian knew that homeless ministry was a passion of Armstrong’s and asked her if she would like to continue the program. Of course her answer was yes. Her congregation voted in support and they made it happen.
Trinity Lutheran was committed to hosting the program until Sept. 10 when the congregation voted to either continue or discontinue the program. An overwhelming majority of the congregation decided to keep the program going, and Armstrong stated that she will continue the meal program until the congregation votes against it.
Trinity Lutheran Church is located at 191 S. Columbia St., in Hemet. Contact 951-658-5013 for information.
Valley Restart, at 200 E. Menlo Ave. in Hemet, offers dinner throughout the week. To qualify, one must complete an application and go through a background check. Contact 951-766-7476 for information.