Back to front: Dallas Durham, Rick Bayne and Pastor Tracy Durham
Vader Assembly of God has been giving away fish to the community for years. Pastor Tracy Durham and others in his family are avid fishermen and are able to give away some of his catches.
Pastor Tracy talked about the program and how it started. He stated, "The Surplus fish program is sponsored by the Washington State Department of fish and Wildlife. After the local hatcheries have met their quota of fish, the rest are donated to food banks and charitable organizations to distribute to the public. Our food bank, (Bread of Life) was started by Diana Hoffman more than 12 years ago and is run under the church's 501 c(3) non profit status."
The church distributes once a year, Pastor Tracy continued, "We are able to distribute fish mainly in the fall, September-October when the fish are running in the rivers. A large portion of the fish have been distributed to the residents of Ryderwood, many of whom are on fixed incomes. We travel to the Toutle or Cowlitz fish hatcheries on a weekly or once every two-week schedule depending on availability. The processed fish become available right away."
Vader Assembly of God offers three types of fish: steelhead, Chinook and Coho salmon.
The church also processes the fish as well, he stated, "Many people ask us who caught the fish and where they came from. I must admit when a real big fish comes through I have been known to take a selfie and post it on Facebook! The fish are sorted and counted by the hatchery personnel and they are loaded by hand into our ice chests for transportation. We process all the fish here at our facility utilizing volunteers that range from 11-95 years in age. We fillet, bag and freeze the fish for later distribution."
They started this program out of a love for the community. Pastor Tracy is from Toledo originally and now lives in Winlock, he understands the need in the communities. Pastor Tracy continued, "We started this program because of the great need in our local communities and it seemed as a valuable resource to share with our neighbors and those in need. Our Mission is to love God, and love and serve people. This seems like a perfect way to help those in need."
It is obvious when you walk into the big room that they enjoy giving the fish away. Pastor Tracy stated, "We are often met with smiles, always treated to 'thank yous' and a lot of people can't believe we are giving fish away. Everyone is grateful and some have told us it is the only protein they have had in weeks. We receive thank you letters and notes in the mail very frequently. It's also fun for us to swap fish cooking recipes and barbeque tips to those that have never had fresh salmon before. It is really a kick to drive around town and stop people on the street and hand them a 20 lb. salmon."
Each year they sit down and give away a lot of fish. When asked how many, Pastor Tracy stated, "We received approximately 67 fish this trip with a total weight of more than 700 lbs. With 4-5 volunteers it takes about 4 hours to process plus clean up time. On this occasion we were able to give away fish basically right off the cutting board into the hands of our community members. Between September and October we usually average 300-500 fish total."
What else does Vader Assembly of God do for outreach in the community, it's quite a bit. Pastor Tracy continued, "Other outreaches include a back to school fair, where we give out school supplies and backpacks, and food drives. We put on a Large Halloween alternative party in a safe environment. We offer girls and boys mid week programs to instill values and teach character to children. We have hosted parenting/family events. We have provided food for distribution to local schools as well as a food bank here at our church."
Pastor Tracy is not one to take all the credit, stating, "We would not be able to carry out this ministry without several key volunteers who are willing to transport, process the fish, and clean up the mess. Hundreds of hours have been invested for the benefit of our local communities. We are grateful for their sacrifice and service so that we might be like Jesus who fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and some fish!"
If you would like to reach out to the Vader Assembly of God, please feel free to call 360-295-3756.