by George Mustoe
As a diverse group of volunteers, CAST (which stands for Coffee and Sandwiches Together) has served free meals on the streets of Bellingham for more than 20 years.
CAST originated in 2000 with the compassion and energy of Mary Ann O’Hara, a local high school teacher, who supervised the organization for many years. Our members are united by a single goal — no one should go hungry! CAST serves food from 6–7 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the red granite Arch of Reconciliation behind the Bellingham Public Library. Our site use is based on a contract with the city. We serve year-round regardless of weather or holidays.
Since 2015, CAST has been affiliated with the Whatcom Interfaith Coalition, which provides accounting services, liability insurance, and 501(c)(3) charity status. Otherwise, CAST is a nondenominational organization that operates independently, and is responsible for its own fund- raising.
The arrival of Covid-19 in 2020 brought major changes to CAST. We operate now under the leadership of a small board of directors. Instead of offering sandwiches, soup, and hot beverages, we now distribute a diverse array of foods, packaged as individual servings for off-site consumption. Thanks to a serving plan approved by the Whatcom Health Department, CAST is one of the only community food providers that has remained in full operation throughout the pandemic.
Four nights each week, three or four CAST volunteers arrive at 5:45 p.m. at the sidewalk serving site. They unfold portable tables and stock them with cases of bottled water, juice boxes, granola bars, fresh fruit, ramen noodles, and about a hundred PB&J and cheese sandwiches, prepared a few hours earlier by CAST volunteers at Our Saviour’s Lutheran, a Fairhaven church that graciously provides us with kitchen and storage space.
Serves Guests From 6–7 P.M.
Between 6 and 7 p.m., we fill grocery bags for 40 to 50 guests. Many are homeless. Others have housing but lack money for food, or have jobs that pay too little to cover current rents. A few push shopping carts or carry backpacks that contain their worldly possessions. Others have the ragged look of living beneath a plastic tarp or highway bridge. But most are clean and neatly dressed. Some guests have a history of substance abuse or mental health issues, but we serve many people who have other challenges. Sometimes, it is a mother and child coming for a free meal, a disabled veteran, seniors on limited incomes. We treat all people with courtesy, respect, and kindness regardless of their place in society. The overwhelming majority are polite, pleasant, and quick to express their appreciation. Serving food is a time of laughter and joy, shared by guests and servers alike. Hence, CAST is an acronym that stands for coffee and sandwiches together.
Yet, despite our long history, CAST is little known in the Bellingham community. There is no paid staff, no office space, and almost no overhead. Amazingly, 97.25 percent of all donations goes directly to the purchase of supplies. Our annual budget of roughly $36,000 comes from individual donations by people in the community. CAST receives no tax revenue or government funding, and has no corporate sponsors. Instead, we rely on the kindness and generosity of people who share the belief that no one should go hungry. Financially, the wolf is always lurking near CAST’s door. We welcome donations of any size. Contributions can be made online at: https://secure.myvanco.com/YGKV/campaign/C-YGYP. New volunteers are always welcome.
For more information, please contact Interfaith Coalition CAST liaison Lindsey McGuirk (Lindsey@interfaith-coalition.org ) or volunteer scheduler Diana Heiman (firstname.lastname@example.org).
George Mustoe, a retired university employee, has been a CAST volunteer since 2017. He has served food on the street hundreds of nights in all weather conditions and has had a multitude of conversations with people who live unsheltered lives.