Parking Lot as Holy Space

Coming together as a community to help those in need


Imagine a grocery store that is completely free; offering the basic necessities of food and compassion to anyone who needs it, no questions asked. A grocery store that strives with everything they do to foster a healthier community and planet, committed to zero food waste. A grocery store fully run by volunteers. The Free Grocery Store is a part of Sustainable Renton, a 501c3 non-profit organization in Renton, WA that cares about building a sustainable community, fostering connections between people, protecting natural resources, and treading as lightly on the Earth as possible.

21st century gleaning

Residents of King County, WA, like those in many parts of America, are no stranger to food insecurity and in 2020 with the strain of Covid-19 taking its toll on America, food insufficiency had already doubled by summer. Scott Kreidermacher, Project Lead for the Free Grocery Store, shares that it was out of a basic need for survival that he started gleaning food for himself and others. “Not only did the need explode but so did the amount of available food because the entire food industry changed overnight,” he said. For the first six months of the pandemic, Scott was picking-up about 40–50 boxes of deli food a day from local grocery stores and distributing them to homeless camps.  

A few weeks into the pandemic, Sustainable Renton lost their storefront and moved outside to the parking-lot of Brewmaster Taproom. While appreciative of the hospitality and the space there just wasn’t enough space to continue functioning at this location. The need for food was skyrocketing, and the Free Grocery Store had already outgrown their outdoor space. 

Sustainable Renton put out a call for property to help with this growing need and Kacey Hahn, pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Renton, answered, and in July 2020, Sustainable Renton’s Free Grocery Store partnered with St. Matthew’s.

Hands that care

The core values and practices of St. Matthew’s align with the mission and focus of Sustainable Renton in so many ways. HANDS THAT CARE is lived out through the practice of RESTORATION. Pastor Kacey shares, “We are deeply invested in co-working with God to relieve human suffering and disrupting oppressive or unjust systems.” 

However, Hannah Flory, vice president of Sustainable Renton, had some hesitation in the beginning. “Being a secular organization and not being a churchgoer myself, I was nervous that there would be expectations on Sustainable Renton. But there weren’t; we were just accepted. Sustainable Renton is my church. It’s my community. It’s my way to feel purpose and find a meaning in life. It was good to see such a seamless partnership and the acceptance from the people at St. Matthew’s.”

Amanda Bedsaul, member of St. Matthew’s, shares that St. Matthew’s has always believed the church is more than four walls; church is what happens beyond the walls of the building—church is being the community. In the midst of a pandemic, we were hungry for community. Volunteers answered the call to be in relationship with one another while feeding our neighbors. Amanda reminisces, “I remember the [food] sorting parties we would have. Truckloads of food came in and the Mormon Sisters, people from our church, people from Sustainable Renton, all helped sort—It was a community effort.”

All are welcome

Every Monday, no matter the weather, volunteers distribute bread, pastries, fresh produce, deli items, dry goods, meat, diapers, personal hygiene products, food for pets, and even flowers to over 150 families, 91% from Renton, 70% from the same zip code as St. Matthew’s. All drive-thru or walk-up patrons are welcome to receive free food with no documentation required. ALL ARE WELCOME at this table. Since beginning operations at St. Matthew’s in 2020, over 1,000,000 pounds of food have been distributed. The Free Grocery store gives agency to people. We don’t just hand out a bag of food, patrons get to choose what food they want and need.

Each week 50-60 volunteers come together to make the Free Grocery Store happen. On any given day, truckloads of food are dropped off and stored. Food is sorted and the parking lot is set up. After the last car has gone through and everything is cleaned up, left-over food is distributed to various homeless camps and food banks in the area. What cannot be salvaged is composted at our Community Farm. No food is wasted. 


Sustainable Renton can no longer rely on the government issued commodity boxes. The Free Grocery Store is sustained through partnerships with grocery stores, food banks and other organizations that provide hygiene products, diapers, and pet food. Macadon’s, a local business in downtown Renton, donates their imperfect macarons and shells for delivery to those experiencing homelessness. A community garden plot with newly planted fruit trees provides food. Grants, fundraising, donations, the grace of God, and a lot of volunteers keep the Free Grocery Store going. One day, the board hopes to be able to support paid positions for Sustainable Renton.

God is clearly at work and moving in this partnership and community. Pastor Kacey reflects, “For the first year and a half of the pandemic, our parking lot was our sanctuary. When we loaded up trunks with food, I heard the Spirit help us say through our actions, ‘the body of Christ, given for you.’”  Pastor Kacey continues, “The community of volunteers are a glorious mixture of members of St. Matthew’s and the broader neighborhood. We have interpreters offering accompaniment in five different languages, and we now have over 25 high school volunteers helping each week. The Holy Spirit is moving in mighty ways!”

One of those volunteers, Luis Morales Carrera, a junior at Hazen High School, has been the Youth Coordinator with the Free Grocery Store since March 2022, and is working to increase volunteer engagement among teens and raise awareness across social media platforms. When asked why being a part of the Free Grocery store is important, Luis shared, “Helping my community is something I pride myself in, it brings me so much joy. I do it because I want other little brown skinned Latino boys to know that there’s someone out there that looks just like them who is looking out for them. Whenever there’s a Spanish-speaking individual needing translation skills, it brings me so much joy. Having the ability to translate their needs is something that means so much to me because it’s something I grew up without. When I see them driving through the free grocery store, I see my mother, my sister, my uncle, or my niece. Seeing their smile as they leave with groceries brings me so much joy, and it’s what keeps me coming time after time. They always tell me how grateful they are that there’s a translator. Every time they drive off the parking lot, I get a little flame in my heart of happiness. I give my everything to this organization because it brings me a connection to the Latino community in which they know that there’s another Latino looking out for them.”

There are exciting things on the horizon for the Free Grocery Store! President Steve Randolph shares that he is excited about the deepening partnership with Sustainable Renton and St. Matthew’s. By the end of summer 2023, St. Matthew’s will repurpose a portion of their back parking-lot to build a walk-through store out of shipping containers. The hope is that the Free Grocery Store will be able to operate two-three nights a week. Hannah Flory ends with “I believe in the mission—a healthier community and planet. It’s what I want to see in my community.”

Stay connected with Sustainable Renton or make a Donation:; @sustainablerenton (Instagram)

  • Bobbi Cyr

    Bobbi Jo Cyr is the Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Renton, WA.

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Katie Langston
11 months ago

testing 123

Grace Duddy Pomroy
1 year ago

This is such an amazing story! I can’t wait to visit Sustainable Renton and see their work in action. I recently heard the story of Community Loaves: A way for bakers to bake healthy sandwich loaves and cookies for local food banks. I recently heard of a church who is opening up their commercial kitchen to bakers from this program so they can bake together in community. Too often I think churches assume they need to handle the entire program from start to finish. What I love about these two examples is that the church can play just one part – creating space for other community members along the way.

Ben McDonald Coltvet
1 year ago

Love this story — a great example of a faith community pivoting to meet neighbors’ needs!

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