When then-newlyweds Tracy and Shawn Ryan met with their Bible study group and heard about an outreach organization one member had founded, the couple had no idea they were starting down a path that would evolve to define service not just for them but for their children yet to be born. Now, more than 15 years later and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tracy, Shawn, and their three oldest children have found a new model to do what they’ve been doing for many years: cooking and serving hot meals on the fourth Monday of every month for homeless guests at SafeHouse Outreach.
SafeHouse helps to transition its clients from homelessness to independent living, and in the evenings offers a program of food, Christian fellowship and inspiration. Over the years, the Ryans have developed a partnership with another family, alternating to provide the monthly meals and joining together to serve about 120 seated guests. Enter COVID, which greatly ramped up the need and required an entirely new food process. As Shawn describes it, “SafeHouse has such a mission of dignity, self-sufficiency and hope, and while the need has always been great, a lot of folks are now out on the street for the first time ever. These days we’re giving food in takeout containers to 300 people or more, who are lining up six feet apart for a distance of many city blocks.”
How has the family been able to help SafeHouse and make the pivot to serving so many more people? Shawn says it’s due to Tracy’s masterful organization. “I call Tracy an executive chef. She has figured out creative and economical ways to cook for 300 people in a regular kitchen like ours. With shopping at Sam’s, she has it down to a total cost of about $375 to $425 a month, and that includes the Styrofoam clamshell trays for serving! Sometimes she makes big pans of chicken pot pie. She does a great hot meatball sub with cheese. And a wonderful gumbo with sausage, beans and rice. In fact, SafeHouse has asked her to write down her recipes for them.
They add a side of fruit and cookies and a drink, loading containers in the prep area at SafeHouse, where all of them, including the Ryans’ three oldest kids (Caleb, Asher and Alden, who are 11, 8 and 6 years old) put on a mask and gloves to help. “That 6-year-old is a trouper on working her way through filling 250 lemonade cups,” he says. “She won’t stop!” He is moved by the guests’ response to his children. “They love the interaction, and they love seeing our kids.” Caleb and Asher have presented the SafeHouse story at their school and won grants for the organization, he adds.
Mainly, he wants everyone to know that even during COVID, this service is still feasible, and that the SafeHouse team are the heroes involved. “Their staff has been working tirelessly through this whole challenging time. They’re an amazing group of folks who do so much good. I’ve met SafeHouse clients who’ve been through their career development program and gotten their first full-time job. And folks who’ve just had their first week ever of paid vacation on a job. There are so many stories like that. We all miss being able to smile at each other, but we’re all still connected.”