Church serving Tijuana with beer and hot dogs

Can a Safeco Field hot dog stand perform miracles? St. John Vianney’s Jan Kline thinks so.

Can a Safeco Field hot dog stand perform miracles? St. John Vianney’s Jan Kline thinks so.

In a partnership with the Seattle Mariners, a Kirkland Catholic charitable group is using the proceeds from slinging hot dogs and tapping kegs of beer to build homes for poor families in Tijuana, Mexico.

Call it a “cool way to do good works,” said Jan Kline, a pastoral assistant at St. John Vianney Church in Juanita. She pointed to the biblical scripture in books of Matthew and James.

“Faith without works is lifeless,” she said. “And you know what? It’s just plain darn fun.”

At an April 22 game with the Baltimore Orioles, a dozen teenagers and adults from the parish kept busy serving pints of pale ale in plastic cups and steaming hot dogs and nachos.

Andrew Wuertzer, 18, ran buckets of ice from the back of the stand to the front. He’s tried to learn Spanish in classes at Juanita High School, but is always puzzled by the speed and accents of his host’s language in Tijuana. This will be his third trip.

“They’re always wonderful families, always helping out,” he said. “We learn how little they get by on. It’s amazing to see.”

This year, Kline will lead a group of about 100 volunteers to Mexico on what she calls a “Mission Trek” in May and June. Beginning in 1992 with 26 people, St. John Vianney Parish volunteers teamed up with Esperanza International in Tijuana, Mexico, and have been back every year since then. Started by a group of concerned San Diegans, Esperanza is a humanitarian organization that helps poor families build homes, receive basic health services and social services.

The families save their money to buy the materials and Esperanza provides the labor and know-how to build the actual house. The program has proved so popular at Kline’s church she’s had to split up the group twice by age, forming youth, college and adult groups.

“That’s a significant impact our parish is having on the world,” Kline said.

Getting to Tijuana and staying at Esperanza’s hostel, however, costs money, so the “Mission Trek” group fundraises all year with bake sales, Christmas tree sales and church dinners. And that’s where the Seattle Mariners and their concessions vendor, CenterPlate, come in. To staff the hundreds of food and beverage service positions throughout the baseball stadium, they apportioned a number of stands to area nonprofits to fill. In exchange for Vianney’s work, the Mariners and CenterPlate have offered a minimum percentage of the proceeds based on the number of volunteers. While fans ordered boxes of Cracker Jack, St. John Vianney’s volunteers raised a minimum of $63 per volunteer, with bonuses for high sales volumes. The church has volunteered to staff Safeco Field’s Section 126 hot dog stand for 10 games.

“Like the families there, we want to pay our way too,” Kline said. “We want to have that solidarity with the families we help.”

Each volunteer must pay $1,100 to join the group this year.

Trying to reach that goal last Tuesday, JoAnne Howisey staffed the hot dog stand register to help raise money for her daughters.

“It’s a family affair,” she said.

All three of her daughters are headed to Tijuana in June.

Buying a couple of hot dogs and soft drinks, Sammamish residents Hector and Lea Solis were surprised to learn the volunteers were raising money for charity work in Mexico. The Solis’ cheered the effort.

“That’s a great idea,” Lea bubbled. Ironically, Solis’ father-in-law also raises money for a charity building homes in Tecate, Mexico. He matches the donations from the charity’s jar at the register of his restaurant, La Casita, in Issaquah.

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