ARLINGTON — Legion Park has become home to a host of oversized gingerbread men and women who were created to help illustrate the plight of homeless children within the community.
After they painted an estimated 125 gingerbread boys and girls in a cold warehouse at the Arlington Airport on Jan. 19, with assistance from the Arlington Arts Council, volunteers from Hands Together braved the rain to plant the gingerbread kids on the southern border of Legion Park the following weekend, Jan. 26, to foster greater awareness of the estimated 125 children in the Arlington School District who are homeless.
“That’s 1.5 percent of the student population,” said Deena Jones, pastor of the Arlington United Church and a leader of Hands Together, a coalition of faith-based and community service groups in Arlington. “We were sub-awardees of a grant that was intended to raise awareness of homelessness within our congregation, but we wanted to take that out into the broader community.”
Hands Together received approximately $6,000 as a sub-grant as part of the Faith and Family Homelessness Project from Seattle University, which in turn was awarded a grant for advocacy and awareness of homelessness from the Gates Foundation. Since the gingerbread children only cost $1,100 in locally purchased materials to create, Hands Together will be using the rest of its sub-grant to fund Penway’s printing of children’s activity books by local cartoonist Steve Edwards, highlighting homelessness as an issue, which will be distributed at the Arlington-Stillaguamish Eagle Festival on Feb. 1-2, as well as a community forum at the Arlington United Church on Feb. 26 starting at 7 p.m.
“The mayor and City Council members are invited to attend, as well as DABA and Chamber of Commerce members,” Jones said. “The topic of discussion will be what, if anything, we want to do about family homelessness, or homelessness in general, in Arlington.”
The remainder of sub-grant funds will cover the Voices Together Concert that’s tentatively set for April 14 at the Byrnes Performing Arts Center.
In the meantime, Hands Together’s portable homeless shelter has been open 25 nights since November, serving between two and nine people each night.
“I don’t know how many different people we’ve served so far this year, but I’m sure it’s more than a dozen,” said Jones, who noted that the portable homeless shelter’s season runs through March, and added that Hands Together’s Brown Bag Brigade is making as many as 70 lunches per week to distribute at the Arlington Community Food Bank on Fridays. “A few lunches are also given to the homeless at the Legion Park gazebo at 11:30 a.m. every Friday. We need help with distribution, especially at the Food Bank.”
To volunteer or for more information, Jones suggested calling Virginia Hatch at 360-403-1011.
“A number of our gingerbread kids have quotes from real homeless children stapled onto them,” Jones said. “We need to decide what we’re going to do about homelessness in Arlington. Are we just going to talk about it, or are we going to come up with some resources, and if so, from where?”