Seattle Parks and Recreation volunteer Walter Houghson shows local Boy Scouts how to remove large blackberry bushes from the ground at Thorndyke Park.
Seattle Parks and Recreation volunteer Walter Houghson shows local Boy Scouts how to remove large blackberry bushes from the ground at Thorndyke Park.

Around 120 Magnolia volunteers went across the neighborhood to work on community projects on a chilled, drizzly Sunday morning.

The Magnolia United Church of Christ’s first-ever Community in Action Sunday brought helping hands to Thorndyke Park, the Seattle Animal Shelter, Project Linus, the Daybreak Star Cultural Club and Tiny Cabins Safe Harbor in Interbay on Jan. 27.

“About a year ago the congregation made a decision that they wanted to look outward, outside of our walls,” said Rev. Marci Scott-Weis. “So our church today is being out in the community doing and being church.”

Magnolia scout troops, families and neighborhood friends spent the morning doing a number of diverse services that Rev. Joy Haertig believes makes a difference in her community.

At the Tiny Cabins Safe Harbor in Interbay, located adjacent to the Magnolia Bridge, volunteers removed wild blackberry bushes, ivy and other wild vegetative growth from around the village’s perimeter, so volunteers and security could keep a better eye out at night. The village is home to 55 low-income and previously homeless families living in tiny homes built and donated by a number of organizations.

Safe Harbor’s community outreach coordinator Joseph Procella said his tiny home family is blessed to have the support of the Magnolia United Church of Christ because he feels there can be a stigma against the residents.

“I was once homeless,” Procella said. “This is a sense, it’s home, it makes life a little more comfortable. I’m not sitting in a cold, wet tent worrying about the city sweeping me and throwing everything I own away. Or worry about some drug-inflicted soul come by and steal everything.”

Tiny Cabins Safe Harbor is a high-barrier encampment, meaning residents must be alcohol and drug-free to live there. The encampment was the first to be sanctioned by the city and opened up in November 2017. Procella said there are many families with children living in the tiny homes, and a majority of the residents have full-time jobs and even attend Magnolia United Church of Christ.

Procella said the organization is still working to get plumbing placed in the tiny homes. Right now, residents have to go to the encampment’s shared kitchen and showers, and use port-a-potties and bottled water. The delay in upgrades and a hopeful expansion, Procella said, is due to litigation from other Magnolia residents against the City of Seattle regarding tiny home encampments, including Elizabeth Campbell’s activist group Safe and Affordable Seattle.

Procella said he feels more than grateful for the church’s efforts to help them keep the encampment clean and safe.

Volunteer Melissa Walsh came with her mother Lucia Schubert, who is a lifelong member of the church, and her 9-year-old daughter Ellen.

“I grew up going to this church,” Walsh said. “My mom is very active and she told me about this day. It’s great, we do tend to sleep in on Sunday morning, but this is a wonderful project, and this tiny village has been here awhile. I think it’s super wonderful to be able to give back. It’s something that’s really important in our family.”

Haertig said the church has supported the encampment since its first inception, and will continue volunteering there, despite local controversy.

“We do it because they are our neighbors,” she said.

Over at Thorndyke Park on Sunday, Seattle Parks and Recreation volunteer Walter Hughson led Boy Scout Troop No. 80 and church members into the forest to remove ivy, hawthorn and blackberry bushes, and to replant native trees that included yew evergreen and dogwood.

“I’m the forest steward for this park,” Hughson said. “This is part of the 350 plants we will replant this year. Our purpose is to remove all invasives that we can.”

Hughson coordinated with the church, and he was excited to see so many hands working together to finish a large task.

“It’s wonderful because they bring such a diverse group, and hopefully it gives them a chance to learn how to improve the forests,” he said.

The project is close to Hughson’s heart; he volunteers to keep his neighborhood parks clean instead of relying on the city.

“The city doesn’t have enough money and they can’t put the manpower involved in doing this type of work,” Houghson said.

Other projects volunteers helped with included walking and playing with dogs at the Seattle Animal Shelter while building an indoor/outdoor project, making blankets at the church of Project Linus and performing some indoor cleanup at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center.