Thank you so much for your ongoing support – we couldn’t pull this feast off without you!
Annie’s Kitchen volunteers are so very grateful for the helping hands of many amazing LDS missionaries that have been coming faithfully every Wednesday to help us prepare our weekly meal. 3 of the four young men are headed home on Monday, August 14. They have finished their 2-year mission and will be going to school in the fall. We wanted to thank them and wish them well as they enter a new and exciting stage in their life!
Thank you for all you have offered, your presence and partnership has been a gift to all of us!
A “Coalminer’s Daughter”
Retiring from Community Service at 99
Less than a month shy of her 99th birthday, Billie Stenson has retired after many years of devoted service at Annie’s Community Kitchen.
Born at the close of World War I, Billie was born on August 3, 1918 in Roundup Montana. Living through 2 World Wars and The Great Depression, Billie has seen her share of hardship. But she has certainly had her fill of happy memories too.
“My father was a coalminer and had his own mine. I remember him taking me with a tin hat and headlamp down to the mine when I was a little five-year old. One day, he went into the bank to withdraw funds and found the banks doors were chained up. The bank closed and they had lost all their money, including my father’s life savings. In one afternoon, we found we had lost everything, my father lost the mine and we were destitute.”
But people took care of each other, explained Billie, a kindly neighbor in Great Falls had a one-room shack behind her house and she invited Billie’s family of four (her mother, father and sister) set up house in the shack “for as long as needed….if it wasn’t for the kindness of our neighbor, we might have been sent to a poor farm” (residences where people who had faced hard time, elderly and disabled, were supported at public expense). Such hard times, Billie recalled with a smile on her face as if these tests reaped joyful results. “My sister and I had three dresses we shared between us, I would wear one, she the other, and the third would be washed. We were dirt poor, but we all took care of each other, everyone did back then.”
Her friends at Annie’s Kitchen, many who are not so much younger agree that this generation that endured some incredibly difficult times actually benefited from an unexpected, yet collective quality of tenacity, gratitude and above all, compassion. Rozella Kleven, a long-time volunteer and member of Edmonds Lutheran Church said, “Younger generations need to hear stories like Billie’s, she has so much to share, not only about the history of our country but about our values…like hard work, loyalty and looking out for one another.”
It seems that this sense or camaraderie brought about by years of taxing events nurtured compassion and empathy in Billie that would grow as the years passed.
Billie and her sister would grow up to both pursue higher education with Billie earning three year certificate in business. Both sisters would receive full scholarships from the National Youth Association. Billie would go on to work for the Social Security Administration and later on in life for the Medicare Administration. “All my life I never had a birth certificate or a Social Security card. I remember it made me so happy to issue these documents to myself,” she explained with a laugh. “I had married Mr. Stenson by then, but when filling out the paperwork for my Social Security card, I listed my name as ‘Billie Buckley’, not ‘Billie Stenson’, I didn’t want my initials to be ‘B.S.!’” This confession was declared with roars of laughter from everyone at the table but Billie turned to me and urged “Don’t write that down!” She also warned me – with a twinkle in her eye – not to include her witty declaration that her favorite part of volunteering at Annie’s Kitchen was “the men!” Billie’s lively sense of humor is something that she has clearly crafted to perfection over the years.
Billie’s career took off, and she would run the regional office of Medicare, overseeing four different states; Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. “When Social Security in 1938, I remember the payment doled out was $14.99 per month. That was good money! You could buy a whole lot of things for a dollar back then….” She started working in 1954 and continued working full time for another 30 years and would finally retire in 1983.
Many years later, well into her nineties, Billie would become restless and sense a divine “nudge” to go back to work….at Annie’s Community Kitchen. Billie has been volunteering her time at Annie’s Kitchen faithfully and diligently for 7 years. She has invested hundreds upon hundreds of hours to ensure that a free, hot and nutritious meal will be served every Wednesday night at Edmonds Lutheran Church. The meal is entering is 12th year and feeds nearly 200 people every week.
Starting to feel a bit worn on the threshold of a century, Billie now enjoys sitting with a group of other ladies, rolling silverware in napkins, drinking coffee and talking about the good old days. Attempting to calculate just how much she has done over the years at the kitchen, her friends determined that Billie has rolled 67,200 napkins of silverware over the years! Wednesday afternoons highlights also consist of the many hugs that Billie will give an receive from an array of volunteers, everyone from a lovely group of Mormon missionaries that come to help every Wednesday to young men who are ordered by drug court to complete community service hours. “Four hugs a day…everyone needs it. I feel these young men are all my grandsons.”
“Billie is one in a million,” declared long-time friend Bonnie Clarke. She’s not just an Annie’s Kitchen friend, she’s a friend for life.”
Billie feels like-minded, saying, “Bonnie and Jimmy (Bonnie’s son) pick me up and bring me here very week. They haven’t missed once….I am sure going to miss this family.”
“Billie hit the nail on the head when she said that this is her family,” declared Bob Snyder, one the founders of Annie’s Kitchen. It’s one of the fringe benefits of coming together to prepare this meal, week after week, year after year. Somehow we all have come to feel like a family. Billie will be sorely missed, but she will always be family.”
Tim Oleson, pastor at Edmonds Lutheran Church said, “Billie is such a great example of someone doing their small part to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not glamorous or even noticed that often, but it is people like her who make big differences in our world.”
“…..Just precious.” was another loving accolade from fellow parishioner, Merrilyn Morrison.
As Billie looks forward to a much deserved rest, and anticipating a 100th birthday next year, Billie will enjoy “retiring in style” at Fairwinds Brighton Court in Lynnwood.
Lexus of Seattle purchased and donated 22 hams for Easter Dinner at Annie’s Kitchen. Thank you to your whole team, you are the best! Our diners will be so happy!
Jimmy has been a volunteer at Annie’s Kitchen for years and years. He comes faithfully to set up tables and chairs every week. Jimmy recently traveled to Wenatchee with his basketball team to compete in the Special Olympics. Hard work and determination paid off and the team came back with the silver medal! Friends at Annie’s Kitchen recognized Jimmy for his service, hard work and determination. Congratulations Jimmy for this amazing accomplishment, you have made us all so proud!
“When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. “When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. – Deuteronomy 24:19-21
Lydia has been a long-time gleaner with Edmonds Lutheran Church. She has a deep-seated conviction that comes from childhood memories of gleaning under the cover of night. Not even old enough to enter school, she spent her nights sneaking into a neighboring field, being mindful to keep hidden from farmers and landowners, fumbling in the blinding darkness, digging through the earth for a single potato or whatever she might find to eat. “It was a very happy day when I could come home with two or three small potatoes. My father was off fighting in the war. We didn’t even know where he was, perhaps in Russia, maybe Germany. My mother was left alone to raise my sister and I. When we each had our own potato, it was a feast.” I remember my mother weeping when she would help me get dressed or help me bathe, she would poke at my protruding ribs and she would whisper, “my daughter is starving”. I tried my best to comfort her. I would often lie to her, saying “mom, don’t worry, I ate lunch at the neighbors” or “so and so gave me an apple”. I thought I was being so clever, but my mother knew better. She knew that all our neighbors were nearly starving too.”
Growing up in Munich, Germany in the early 1940’s, worrying about where your next meal would come from was far too common. Lydia was only 2 years old when World War II commenced, and with it, the disappearance of almost every commodity needed to sustain human life. Memories of standing in long queues for a ration of oil or milk, memories of passing time and holding her breath in underground shelters while US bombs ravaged her home; those memories bring her back each week to serve, to make sure that precious food is not wasted and that no one leaves the church hungry. “My mother was venturing outside of town to a farther field, hoping to find food. She got on her bicycle, which was the only transportation we had. As she pedaled down the road, a large lorry passed by, she grabbed the back of the lorry and let it tow her quickly down the road. When the driver saw her, he became enraged, he pressed on the gas and began swerving back and forth, accelerating higher and higher, until she could no longer hold on, she went flying off her bicycle and crashed into the bushes on the side of the road. A kind-hearted stranger found her later on, battered and bruised, lying in the bushes, he carried her home. We were so lucky that she survived. So many years later as I recall these things, I am amazed at the risks she took to make sure we had food to eat.
Munich was badly wounded, but as the war settled, American GI’s began filling the streets. Passing out chewing gum and waving at passers-by and smiling to the children. A young American soldier passed by as my mother was scrubbing our clothes in a bucket on the sidewalk. He didn’t speak German and she, no English. But with a little sign-language we agreed that in exchange for my mom washing his laundry, he would bring us food. The trade was not for money. Money was useless. What’s the purpose of having money when the stores are either in a heap or rubble or all their shelves are bare? So once a week, this nice young man would bring his bag of laundry for my mom and in exchange, he would give her a cake of “Palmolive” soap, bananas and oranges, which we had never seen before. He also brought “Hersheys” chocolate. When he gave us the first piece, I was very perplexed. I had never seen chocolate, it was brown and ugly and I didn’t want it. But when my mother said “Lydia, just put a little piece on your tongue to taste,” I couldn’t believe it! It was wonderful, the most amazing treat!
These childhood memories, while painful, taught us some of the most profound life lessons that simply cannot be learned from a book. Hunger in your belly is like a war. Food, like safety and security is a basic human right.
Thank you to everyone at Royal Caribbean for their generous in-kind donation of valuable cookware, appliances and tools. It is businesses like yours that keep Annie’s Kitchen operating and serving our community! Special thanks to Yoko Gunderson, Environmental Officer and Royal Caribbean’s Food and Beverage Director. Bless you all!
Lexus of Seattle in Lynnwood has been a long-time supporter of community based organizations in our neighborhood.
Annie’s Community Kitchen (www.annieskitchen.edmondslutheran.org) serves a free meal at Edmonds Lutheran Church from 5-6:30 pm every Wednesday night. The program receives its supplies and foodstuffs from a team of gleaners that collects nearly three thousand pounds of food every week. The food is collected by volunteers, used for the community meal, and the rest is distributed to other local food banks and feeding programs.
Edmonds Lutheran’s gleaners have a van that goes out seven days a week to collect these food donations. Lexus has been donating maintenance on the van for years. But recently, Brad Castonguay, General Manager of Lexus of Seattle in Lynnwood told Annie’s Kitchen volunteers, “The repairs on this van are just getting to be too expensive. I think I have a solution for you.”
Soon after that, Bob Snyder, the co-founder of Annie’s Kitchen rolled into Lexus to see a beautiful, clean van with minimal miles on it. Brad gave him the keys. “I think this will work much better for you,” Brad said with a smile.
Working on faith and a shoestring budget, Snyder was speechless. “Every morning before I would fire up our old van, I would say a little prayer that it would start. So many people are counting on us, and if the van breaks down, our program comes to a halt. I don’t know if we can ever express the gratitude we feel to Brad and his team at Lexus.
23525 84th Ave W, Edmonds, WA 98026
Billie Stenson have been volunteering at Annie’s Kitchen for years and she turned 98 today! HAPPY BIRTHDAY BILLIE! WE ALL LOVE YOU!