ANNETTA KOETJE sat in her living room, looking out at the birds on her feeder, contemplating her service to Dégagé. “When you’re blessed, you return it. God blessed us with the strength, energy, and resources to do His work. So we just did it!” At 91, she now remembers that service as part of the best years of her life.
Annetta has been supporting Dégagé Ministries since 1982, doing everything from serving coffee to making breakfast. “We said the Lord’s Prayer before every meal. And they called me the Oatmeal Lady!” Annetta and her husband Harold would drive all over town in their red pickup, shuttling food staples, patrons, and other volunteers to Dégagé. “There was a volunteer named Sister Denise who was legally blind, so of course, we drove her everywhere. Every time we picked her up, she would say, ‘God bless this little red truck!’”
Even at the beginning, Dégagé found a way for everyone to be served. “We charged 10¢ for a cup of coffee, but if someone didn’t have it, we would find them a small job so they could earn it.” Dégagé still has a similar philosophy today.
Annetta’s favorite part of her service at Dégagé was building relationships with people. “Emma lived under the Leonard Street viaduct. She didn’t want to come into a shelter at night, but was happy for us to bring her to Dégagé for a meal. And Kelly, a rather large and gregarious man, always told my husband, ‘Harold, I will always have your back!’ They were good people going through hard times.” She remembers a Halloween party where everyone dressed up, patrons and volunteers alike, and they all loved how that experience broke down even more barriers. “We are all the same inside,” she mused.
These days, Annetta brings her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to Dégagé. In 2021, instead of filling Christmas stockings for everyone, the family donated hundreds of hygiene items. When they dropped off their bounty, the family came in to talk with Dégagé’s staff about the realities of being homeless. Annetta’s daughter, Vonnie Lamb, was able to share the impact of that visit on her grandchildren. “My 5 year old grandson was shocked that so many people slept in the same room. Others were surprised that there were people in shelter that had jobs, and that they had to sign up to take a shower. Our visit had a big impact on everyone.” Before they left, the family prayed for Dégagé’s patrons and staff, and created notes of encouragement to place on lockers throughout the Open Door Women’s Center.
“It has been such an honor and a privilege to get to know this family,” Executive Director Thelma Ensink shared, noting that Dégagé is starting yet another connection to Annetta’s family. Vonnie’s daughter-in-law Karna has started volunteering with Dégagé’s social enterprise, Pauls’ Moms’ Cookies, as they create more offerings in anticipation of opening a storefront at Dégagé in the fall. Karna is a cupcake expert!