Ninety years ago this spring, Tom and Elizabeth Boston set aside their missionary work in Seattle and moved north to start a mission in Bellingham. They bought a building at 1313 E St. and began offering shelter, meals and ministry at their Light House Rescue Mission.
"They saw a need for working with the fishermen and the lumberjacks in Bellingham," said Ron Buchinski, executive director of Lighthouse Mission Ministries. "They were a rough crowd."
Rough crowd notwithstanding, the mission has survived and grown through the decades. Today, the mission occupies a cluster of buildings by West Holly and F streets and offers a wide range of services, from the basics of food and shelter to medical services, intensive counseling and training, a separate shelter for single women and women with kids, and a drop-in center where up to 85 people come each day.
To mark the mission's 90th anniversary, a campaign is under way to raise $200,000 to install an elevator for the three-story mission at 910 W. Holly St. Open since 1975, the building offers ready access to lodging, showers and medical respite care on the middle floor, but there's no access to the lower-level dining hall or to upper-level psychiatric-care lodging for people who need wheelchairs or who are too weak or too old to handle the stairs.
"We have a three-story facility with the ability for guests to get to only one floor," Buchinski said.
One donor has given $25,000 and another has given $5,000 for an elevator, and the mission's foundation plans to help.
"I'm anticipating a good response," Buchinski said
The original mission on E Street continued through several directors and name changes until November 1953, when a fire badly damaged the building and it was condemned and torn down.
The mission found a new home at 504 W. Holly St. and soon expanded into adjacent spaces at 502 and 500 W. Holly. Those buildings stood where Maritime Heritage Park now opens onto Holly.
The mission opened a women's and children's home at 500 W. Holly in 1973, then moved the women's home to a house on North Garden Street the same day that the men's mission moved to 910 W. Holly.
The women's shelter, now called the Agape Home for Women and Children, next moved to a house on Yew Street Road before moving into a new two-story building a few years ago catty-cornered from the men's mission.
At the same intersection, the mission recently remodeled a building for offices and for space for residents improving their lives through counseling and training.
Also recently, a warehouse next to Agape was turned into a daytime drop-in center with space for medical services, an eye clinic, and connections with more than a dozen nonprofit programs.
During 2012 through November, the mission provided more than 47,000 nights of lodging at its various programs and served more than 129,000 meals.
Buchinski's now exploring ways to improve dental care for homeless people and is talking to people in law enforcement about ways the mission might help people on probation or parole. Both topics fit the mission's goal of addressing unmet niches in services for the needy.
"We're talking about how we can make our front door a little broader," Buchinski said.
Several activities are planned to mark the 90th anniversary of Lighthouse Mission Ministries:
Art show and reception: 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall building. A mural for the mission designed by Bellingham artist Ben Mann will be unveiled. RSVP at 360-733-5120.
Downtown Art Walk reception: 6 to 10 p.m. Feb. 1 at 1313 Bay St. (Flatiron Building).
Double Meal Deal: March 12; restaurants donate meal profits to the mission. Check TheLighthouseMission.org for names of participating restaurants.
Mission open house: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 16 at 910 W. Holly St.
Anniversary dinner: 6 p.m. April 19 at Christ the King Church, 4173 Meridian St. RSVP, 360-733-5120.
Mission board, auxiliary reunion: Details to be announced.
Kings Men of Song Concert: 7 p.m. April 28 at Hope in Christ Church, 710 E. Sunset Drive. Free admission; donations requested.
Reach DEAN KAHN at email@example.com or call 715-2291.