Local non-profit organization Food with Friends is doing something unique in Clark County: it’s offering people living on the streets a free hot shower through a mobile shower cart service. The organization, which has served individuals and families living outdoors since 2016, started the shower outreach project in the winter of 2018. At present, there are no shower facilities like this available for people living unsheltered in the area. So, giving people the opportunity to take care of their personal hygiene through a simple shower is helping fill a steep need within Clark County. Currently, the project serves about 50 people a week at 2 different host sites on specific days and times.
Cherish DesRochers-Vafeados, founder of Food with Friends, explains that the organization started organically. She has served alongside other community members to help the homeless population for many years and during that time, she has developed a variety of meaningful relationships with people she meets on the streets.
After serving sack meals every Saturday on her own, her friends and family encouraged her to start an official non-profit organization. “Initially we thought we were only going to serve sack meals, so that’s why we came up with the name Food with Friends, as we were literally out having food with our friends,” Cherish says. “Over time, we grew and added more services, like the Shower Outreach Project. So now our name doesn’t quite mesh up as well as it once did, though we still go out and have food with our friends each Saturday.”
The mobile shower cart has two showers and two changing rooms, and the water is heated through propane tanks. Cherish explains that the unit was recently a victim of a hit-and-run, and it took some time to get it repaired and back into service. Now, the project is in full swing again and organization leaders are looking for ways that they can help reach even more people that need it.
The unit is on-site at Living Hope Church and Friends of the Carpenter on designated days and times. Currently, the organization is actively looking for more host sites to further expand their reach. Cherish shares that it’s easy to become a host and only requires a few things: volunteers to help run the showers, a water spigot, power and a sewer clean-out. “We obviously want to serve more people,” she says, “and if host sites are flexible with the pickup and drop off times, I think we can add more services.”
In addition to the shower project, Food with Friends serves about 325 meals a month to unhoused people. The organization also offers an emergency weather outreach service, where volunteers distribute cold climate survival gear during inclement weather. Their goal is to help prevent weather-related injuries or deaths.
To help keep things running well, the organization has many business partnerships within the community. Last year, Bombas donated 5,000 pairs of socks for distribution and they are offering another donation this year that is expected to arrive soon. In addition, a local pizza establishment donates leftover pizzas every weekend and milk and juice are donated weekly from a local dairy. Cherish explains that working on these projects is a rewarding way to serve Clark County’s underprivileged. “We build real friendships with those we serve,” she says.
Looking at the future, Food with Friends wants to invest in more shower units while expanding their amount of host sites. They are in the process of an internal reorganization and will fill gaps if needed, but the goal is to remain volunteer-run and always keep relationship-building with the underserved at the forefront of their mission and operations. “We are 100 percent volunteer run, we are consistent, and our only agenda is truly to serve people in our community,” Cherish explains.
Showers are available on Sundays from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Living Hope Church’s Live Love Center (2711 NE Andresen Road, Vancouver) and on Wednesdays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Friends of the Carpenter (1600 W. 20th Street, Vancouver).
To learn more about their services, visit the Food with Friends website or call 360-723-5791.