The Rev. Ryan Sidhom dislikes the idea of a church looking better and better while the neighborhood around it looks worse and worse, he said.
So Sidhom’s River City Church routinely skips its worship service on the second Sunday of every month. That’s when the church at 2400 E. Fourth Plain Blvd. in Vancouver becomes a clearinghouse for the services and sustenance that its neighbors need.
Hundreds of visitors and 21 nonprofit, charity and public service agencies were on hand Nov. 14 at River City Church — all powered by the free fuel brewed up by Andrew Carson and Josh Thatcher of Vancouver business Coherent Coffee.
“We met Ryan when we were selling at the Vancouver Farmers Market and got plugged into his community and his vision for the community,” Thatcher said. “We don’t actually go to church here, but we’re big fans of what he’s trying to do here.”
The super-busy Sidhom, who was busy fixing a blown fuse when The Columbian showed up that Sunday morning, finally restored power. Then he slowed down to explain his mission in the gentle Southern drawl of his native Memphis, Tenn.
“I came here two-and-a-half years ago and my vision is to have a real impact on this area, which is a very needy area,” Sidhom said of Vancouver’s Fourth Plain corridor. “One Sunday every month, we cancel service and we serve the community instead — in whatever way the community needs. The point is meeting the neighbors where they are.”
A hot lunch was served by Thrive 2 Survive, an outreach program of Recovery Cafe Clark County, which supports people overcoming addition, mental illness and houselessness. SeaMar Community Health Centers provided COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington registered new members. The Department of Licensing helped people with complicated license and registration matters.
A mobile dental clinic offered dental exams and basic services while dentistry students from Clark College offered information, toothbrushes and on-campus appointments for later.
“I’m a member of the church, and it’s great to offer all this help,” said Greg Mitchell, who was looking forward — if that’s the right term — to a tooth extraction in the mobile clinic.
“I have VA health care, but no dental,” he explained.
Pet owners waited while a pair of veterinarians with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington conducted screening exams and provided vaccines, deworming medications, flea treatments and microchipping.
“We’re always busy here,” said Megan Dennis, vice president of shelter operations, who’s staffed several Humane Society visits to the church. “Last time we served 25 families and 34 pets, and I think we’ll do a little more this time.”
Volunteers come from all walks of life.
“Nine months clean and sober,” boasted Abe Lepak, who has volunteered at several second-Sunday events at River City Church. “It’s an amazing thing and I’m so happy to be part of it. You get to help people who need help, and I used to be one. You get to give back to our houseless friends. I used to be one.”
One of Sidhom’s first moves as pastor of River City Church was surveying the neighborhood about wants and needs; homeless resources came out on top of the list, he said.
“There’s a high concentration of houseless people here, seeking resources,” he said. The need only grew after the March 2020 closure of the troubled Navigation Center nearby, which was intended to be a daytime base for homeless people.
“Jesus said people will recognize my followers by their love,” Sidhom said.
Two friends that Sidhom made in Ohio flew in just to volunteer for the events — and to study the situation for possible duplication there.
“We’re staying here for three days, to learn about this church and how this works,” Brent Wilson of Cincinnati said. “We might want to copy this.”