Prineville Reaches Out to Homeless, Needy

February 15, 2017 | Yollie Jahn

Friendship Meals, a sack-lunch ministry aptly named by Tifonna Wilson, was launched in June 2016 to serve the homeless and the needy in the Prineville, Ore., community. The team prepares sack lunches and occasionally a hot meal on the last two Sundays of the month. These meals are distributed, along with other necessities, to those in need.

For many years Walt Madsen had felt God tugging at his heart to do something to help the homeless and the needy. “I just did not listen, nor did I act on what He bade me to do,” Madsen says. “I remember when I was growing up, my father and mother constantly did acts of kindness from feeding [homeless] on the railroad to providing free board and lodging to a man who had a difficult time getting back on his feet. Years went by without my doing anything. However, I continued to think about people and their needs. I thought that if God really wanted me to do something, He would push me in that direction.”

Two years ago, Madsen started networking with the people who run a shelter in town and a handful of people who were feeding the needy and the homeless on Thursdays and Saturdays. Getting in contact with one of those in charge of the ministry, he and his wife, Linda, began donating groceries to this group so they could keep their ministry going.

Linda also made birthday cakes for people having birthdays. One man she made a birthday cake for just sat there and stared at the cake. They asked him if he was going to blow out the candles and he did, but he just sat there and continued staring at the cake. They asked him if he was going to cut the cake and share with the others. He started getting emotional and said, “No one had ever made me a birthday cake before. I just want to admire it a while longer.” 

By mingling with the needy, Madsen found out no one provided a meal for them on Sundays since the usual volunteers were at church. This opened a huge opportunity for the Prineville Church. He talked to Nate Hellman, the Prineville Church pastor at that time, about the need and his burden to fill that need. One day, in the spring of 2016, Hellman told Madsen it was time to get the homeless ministry started.

To Madsen’s pleasant surprise, 19 church members volunteered to help in various areas. Wayne and Linda Spregher, members of the crew that provided the meals on Thursdays and Saturdays, extended further help by providing information necessary for Madsen’s planning and preparation. The Spreghers came to give moral support to the Prineville Church group when they distributed the first meal on June 26, 2016.

With the Madsens' leadership, and starting with donations from both members and nonmembers, the Friendship Meals ministry is growing. A company called Hayden Homes donates cash and goods towards the ministry. Althea Roberts made "blessing bags" with needed items to share with the homeless. She and Cheryl Gratreaks crocheted beautiful winter hats to give away as well.

The original plan was to hand out Friendship Meals one Sunday a month. The crew now operates at least two Sundays a month due to the need. The last two Sundays are the best time, since many people run out on their food allowance by then. From June 26 through Dec. 25, 2016 the group gave away 512 meals, 11 Bibles, 18 pairs of long underwear, 15 pairs of socks, two coats, 15 hats, 12 pairs of gloves, two blankets, eight hand warmers, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper and seven blessing bags.

“We have a very caring church here in Prineville. They sacrifice their time and money to help people who are in need in the community, not just in the church. We all need to be in tune with God and listen to what He is telling us to do. We need to learn to be the answer to other people’s prayer," says Madsen.