You can help
The regular “second Saturday” volunteer work party, coordinated by Crossroads Community Church, is scheduled for Nov. 9 at Lord’s Gym. If you are interested in helping out with donations of labor or cash, call Jamie Kingsbury at 360-601-1422.
The Lord's Gym just isn't working out.
The homegrown, multifaceted community center and human service site — church, food pantry, hot meal site and public gymnasium — is losing money in a big way, according to new director Jamie Kingsbury. All functions except the church itself are due to stop as of Oct. 31, he said. That's despite the donation of a spiffy new commercial kitchen, about two years ago, for the Lord's Gym's busy hot meal service.
New kitchen or no, the building at 2410 Grand Ave. remains a deepening money pit, Kingsbury said, and the strategy now is to remedy that before getting back to serving needy people.
"We've been continuously pouring money into our ministry, not into our facilities," he said. "We have handed out and handed out."
Kingsbury is one of the original church delegates who visited California a decade ago to check out the umbrella Lord's Gym organization before deciding to bring it here. That group went into the endeavor with eyes wide open, he said: "We knew when we took on the Lord's Gym that it would never financially pay for itself. We knew it would lose money."
But the Great Recession hit the operation with a double-whammy, Kingsbury and others said. Need has increased while resources have dried up. Meanwhile the old building, which started out as a church but also spent 20 years as Uncle Milt's Pipe Organ Pizza Company restaurant, is facing $300,000 in critical needs like a new roof, a new parking lot, a new heat pump and new plumbing in the bathrooms. There's also an ancillary property — a recovery house on St. Johns Boulevard for men kicking addictions — that also needs a new roof, Kingsbury said.
Lord's Gym also faces hefty routine costs for things like insurance, Kingsbury said. It costs more than $1,000 a month to insure the gym and basketball courts that are open to the public, he said. The generally low-income neighborhood around Lord's Gym really values those recreation facilities, he said.
All in all, Kingsbury said, it costs $10,000 a month to operate Lord's Gym. Cutting back on all programs except hosting New Life Friends Church itself will save thousands, he said. He said that the church membership of 60 to 70 was polled about its priorities, and jettisoning all ancillary programs became the obvious choice.
"We've been putting Band-Aids on everything for such a long time," said facility manager Joe Varella. "We just can't do that anymore."
"Let us build up financially again," Kingsbury said. "Right now we've got 21 leaks in the roof."
Kingsbury said he is a volunteer who works construction to make a living.
There are just three paid staffers at Lord's Gym.
He added that the building has benefitted from regular "second Saturday" volunteer work parties coordinated by Crossroads Community Church, and the next one is scheduled for Nov. 9.
If you are interested in helping out with donations of labor or cash, call Kingsbury at 360-601-1422.
A couple of longtime volunteers mentioned leadership churning at the church and questioned some recent church decisions about rescheduling the hot meal service. The number of people who regularly turn up has reportedly dropped as a result, and that in turn has led to donations drying up.
"There's always some kind of politics," said Violet Adams, an energetic volunteer in the food pantry kitchen at age eighty-something. She's been a fixture at the Lord's Gym food pantry for the last three years, cooking hot meals that are either served here or sent up the street to the Memorial Lutheran Church.
In 2011 a donor with deep pockets — John Ledoux, the CEO of Camas software firm Plexsys Interface Products Inc. — spearheaded a huge kitchen upgrade that brought in a total of $100,000 in commercial freezers, stoves, steam tables and more. Good facilities plus plenty of donations meant that Adams has been able to provide hot meals for something like 2,000 people every month, she said.
"Having all this behind me, I'm able to give them healthy foods, not just canned stuff dumped into broth," Adams said. "I make sure they have the starches and carbs to help keep the body warm. This is breaking my heart. I don't know what these people are supposed to do."
In addition to frequent hot meals, Lord's Gym has been a food pantry and distribution site for fresh groceries.
"Everything that's done by the food ministry is done on donations," she said. "When those don't come through, we've got nothing to work with."
She added that she's gotten to know many of the people she serves. "When they pat your hand and say, 'Thank you for doing this every week,' you want to make sure you get down there the next week," she said.
Gary Schneider is the driving force behind the on site food ministry, which is actually a separate nonprofit called Angels of God. Schneider also grumbled about church decisions that have made it harder for him to feed needy people -- but added that he is determined to find a new base of operations for Angels of God.
"It's a bummer," Schneider. "I need some commercial freezers. No matter what happens, I'll find a way to serve the homeless community here. I will not stop."
Michael Di Palermo sang the praises and mourned the loss of the Lord's Gym recovery program: "I was an addict back in the day and they helped me out quite a bit. I was a meth addict for seven or eight years and I've been clean for five. I just don't want this to go away. It makes such a big difference for so many people."
Kingsbury said the recovery program has helped straighten out about 90 people a year.
"It's disheartening and sad to say, 'No more,' but we have never invested in the property," he said. "We need to start taking care of God's house again."