THE EARLY DAYS
Don Stoegbauer started COTS’ Meal Ministry Program not long after COTS was first established as a nonprofit organization in 1998. Our Meal Ministry team is an “army” of hundreds of volunteers who deliver hot meals to more than 60 residents experiencing homelessness every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. This extraordinary effort provides the basic need of nourishment to the residents of COTS.
About fifteen years ago, Don reached out to Meal Ministry volunteers, hoping to find individuals who were willing to step up to the task of coordinating the Meal Ministry Program. Lynn Van Zeeland and Jean O’Brien (pictured from left to right above) were the only individuals to respond to Don’s request. Lynn and Jean then became known as Don’s “call girls,” as the Meal Ministry Program became dependent on them calling volunteers who were willing to prepare meals.
Don was a real inspiration to both Jean and Lynn. In Jean’s words, “Don could find a meal any place in the Valley.” He would take it upon himself to visit area churches and talk with congregations whenever a need arose for more Meal Ministers.
“COTS HAS COME A LONG, LONG WAY”
According to Lynn, “COTS has come a long, long way,” since Don was involved with Meal Ministry, and “Don would be very proud.” In fact, during Don’s time with Meal Ministry, Meal Ministers were warned not to go in alone when dropping off food at COTS. Jean and Lynn both recall that residents wouldn’t even make eye contact with anyone who was dropping off a meal.
Today’s Meal Ministers have a much more positive experience. COTS’ residents greet Meal Ministers with a friendly smile and even help them to unload their cars.
After fifteen years of service, Jean, the Men’s Meal Ministry Coordinator, is set to retire from Meal Ministry at the end of June. One of her fondest memories during her time as a volunteer is having Meal Ministers call her to tell her how well their food was received by COTS’ residents. She remembers one Meal Minister saying “One guy cleaned out my pan…I was willing to take it home dirty.”
Jean will certainly be missed, but as with any other program at COTS, change is inevitable. Jen Gaerthofner, one of COTS’ many dedicated Meal Ministers, has graciously agreed to serve as Jean’s replacement. We are so grateful for all of the wonderful Meal Ministers who stand with us in the fight against homelessness. Each and every volunteer is truly a valuable member of the COTS team.