By Michelle Frost

When the doors open at 7 pm, volunteers greet the women who are lined-up and waiting to enter.  Not only a Drop-in center for clothing, supplies and a hot meal, Rahab’s Sisters offers the women a gathering place to feel safe and to find a sense of community.

While the women eat dinner, volunteers fill orders from the supply closet, stocked with donated items including socks and underwear, hats, scarves, razors, tampons and other hygiene products. Donations are always welcome, especially travel-size items.

Rahab’s Sisters is a hospitality outreach sponsored by a partnership of Portland area Episcopal churches and Imago Dei Community, a non-denominational church in SE Portland.

Mary Dettman, once President of Rahab’s Sisters, often worked 60 hours a week fundraising to maintain the program’s ministry, which is to provide a safe environment to women on or near 82nd Street who are marginalized by addiction, homelessness, and unemployment.  These women find shelter and a meal every Friday evening at Saints Peter & Paul Episcopal Church from 7 – 10 pm.  Rahab’s Sisters opened its doors about 10 years ago.

Dettman describes the chaotic scene on a typical Friday evening when the room fills with women, as they find their friends, socialize, and check-out the “Grab it” table which holds donated clothing, and “all kinds of things that appear on that table,” according to Dettman.

“We also have a prayer journal that is provided to the women to write in, with amazing results.” She emphasizes, “Religion is not shoved down their throats. We believe in ‘Radical Hospitality’,” she explains, “and the whole thing is to welcome them, not to judge…providing a learning opportunity for ‘unconditional love.”

One excerpt from the prayer journal, “Thanks to all for everything you do. Pray for my son and I please. My life is finally starting to change for the better.  Thanks.”

Although Rahab’s Sisters does not provide housing or overnight shelter, they do provide respite, open hearts and resources. “We consider ourselves the bottom of the food chain,” says Dettman. “We work with Portland Women’s Crisis Line,” in emergency situations – for instance, a woman trying to flee a situation of domestic violence in need of shelter for the evening.

“About 8:30 or 9 pm is when the ‘working women’ come in,” Dettman explains, “when their men might give them a break to eat.” Rahab’s Sisters offers them condoms and assistance in certain overdose situations.

“We even have an armed guard (on Friday nights),” Dettman says, “so the women feel secure when they come here.”  Apparently, there were problems once with men sending women in for food and the women going hungry. Now, another program at Sts. Peter & Paul Episcopal Church, St. Brigid’s Table, offers breakfast to both men and women every Saturday morning at 9:30 am, which seems to have alleviated the Friday night problem.  A new program beginning in April, Hands of Favor, will offer the women free hairstyling once a month on Fridays at 4 – 8 pm.

Two events are benefitting Rahab’s Sisters and the public is welcome and invited to attend both.

• April 17, a female vocal ensemble focused on music from 1700s, In Mulieribus (Latin ‘amongst women’) will perform in the Sanctuary at Sts. Peter and Paul at 7:30 pm. The concert is $10 students & seniors;  $15 adults.

• The Annual Mothers’ Tea, is May 9, featuring traditional fare, as well as a fashion show presented by Christopher and Banks, musical entertainment by Kris Jones and Tahlia, and a silent auction and raffle, at St. John’s Episcopal, 2036 SE Jefferson in Milwaukie. Admission is $15 or 2 packages of women’s underwear. Volunteers are actively being recruited.

“We have a team of about 13 volunteers who work on Friday nights, and every week has its own team of volunteers,” Dettman explains. “The volunteers are rotated to prevent anyone from being overworked.” Qualities they most appreciate in volunteers are a non-judgmental understanding, consistency, intentional listening, and a need to ‘give back’ or to help others.

“Many of these women feel invisible,” says Dettman. “One woman told me how much it meant when the volunteer greeted her by her name. To be recognized as a person, that is so important.”

Another entry  in the prayer journal, “Wow! Such kind and gracious women who volunteer their time and selves to us women needing a place to rest our weary bodies. Makes me feel like aspiring to something different. Very grateful for the kindness I was shown this evening.”

To volunteer your time and compassion, email rahabs.sisters@gmail.com. www.rahabs-sisters.org

Sts. Peter & Paul Episcopal Church is at 8147 SE Pine (off 82nd St.), offering Sunday services at 8 am spoken, 10 am, sung with last Sundays a Celtic Mass), and 12 pm Misa (Español). 503.254.8168.

Imago Dei, Latin for ‘Image of God’ www.imagodeicommunity.com  Church is at 1302 SE Ankeny, offering Sunday services at 8:45 am, 10:30 am and 12 noon.