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Feeding the future

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | February 12, 2024 1:07 AM

RATHDRUM — Steam lazily swirled from cups of hot cocoa and plates of cheese-sprinkled, saucy sloppy joes offered to students who stepped under the cover of a dripping canopy.

Every Thursday afternoon from 1 to 3 p.m., no matter the weather, Outreach Eats sets up at the Rathdrum Skate Park, across the street from Mountain View Alternative High and its adjacent middle school.

The youths snagged plastic bags and made their way down long tables, taking their picks and filling their sacks with fruit snacks, pudding cups, chip bags, fresh braided bread, pastries and other goodies.

Each student was acknowledged with a friendly greeting reflective of the nonprofit Outreach Eats motto, displayed on a banner hanging from the bright orange canopy: "Caring matters. Kindness matters. You matter."

"I think it’s very considerate of them to be giving food to people that are in need," Mountain View seventh grader Evelynn Brekke said. "Our whole class comes out here."

Garwood couple Garry and Robin Mickelson launched Outreach Eats as soon as they arrived in North Idaho nearly a year ago. They first checked out a few parks and skate parks in Post Falls but found themselves drawn to Rathdrum.

“This was the last place that we stopped,” Robin said. “We didn’t know the area at all. And we pulled up this road and Garry and I knew this was where we were supposed to be. We knew immediately at the same time this was where we were going to set up."

Robin said they talked with the city of Rathdrum and the Rathdrum Police Department to make sure they had everything in order, "and it took off from there."

“It’s felt right ever since,” she said. “This is where we’re supposed to be.”

The Mickelsons served for 12 years with the faith-based Mother 2 Many skatepark ministry in Sumner, Wash., where they saw 250 youths a day who were in need of meals, clothing items, toiletries and, especially, words of encouragement.

"I couldn’t imagine being a kid today," Garry said. "From the time they wake up, they're bombarded with, ‘You’re not good enough,’ ‘You have to look this way,’ ‘Act this way,’ ‘Be this way,’ ‘Don’t say that but say this,’ ‘You’re not thin,’ ‘You’re too thin,’ ‘You’re too tall,’ ‘You’re too short.'"

“You got kids telling each other, ‘Nobody wants you here, just go kill yourself,'" he continued. "The second leading cause of death for ages 11-22 is suicide. My grandson took his own life right after COVID started. A lot of times if these kids just have a smiling face, someone to talk to, what they’re going through — as horrible as it is — there is light. There is something on the other side."

He said Outreach Eats has no purpose other than to be there for the kids.

“If a smiling face keeps those kids from doing something they can’t come back from, if even one, then that’s done it," he said.

Garry and Robin attend Anthem Hayden Church, which Garry said is incredibly supportive of their skatepark outreach. The generosity of community members and money from the Mickelsons' own pockets also pay for this weekly ministry.

“The community has come alongside so much,” Garry said. “It’s incredible.”

Garry said Outreach Eats will regularly be at another skatepark this spring.

"We’ll get to where we’re doing a different skatepark or youth center every day," he said.

Eighth grader Khonner Peck lit up when he was asked his thoughts about this service.

"They’re amazing," he said. "They’re my friends."

Mountain View Principal Paul Uzzi said Outreach Eats fills a need for his students.

“We provide lunch and we provide breakfast, and a lot of them wait until breakfast the next day but it definitely fills in a gap within the community," he said. "They always chat with the kids, they joke with them, give high-fives, that type of thing."

He said students recently made a big "thank you" card and signed it for the Outreach Eats volunteers.

Outreach Eats will host a benefit event from 4 to 7 p.m. March 9 at Anthem Hayden, 251 W. Miles Ave. Tickets are $35. The evening will entail live and silent auctions and dinner.

Info: outreacheats.org

    Garry Mickelson, who co-founded the nonprofit Outreach Eats with wife Robin, serves up a sloppy joe to Mountain View Alternative High School junior Daveigha Linsenmann in front of the school Thursday. Outreach Eats is a skatepark ministry that provides free snacks for youths once a week, as well as kindness and encouragement.
 
 
    Outreach Eats is a nonprofit skatepark ministry founded in spring 2023 by Garwood couple Garry and Robin Mickelson. The team sets up at the Rathdrum Skatepark every Thursday.