Street ministry helps homeless

MARYSVILLE – A street minister in Arlington, Marysville and elsewhere is finding that aiding the homeless is helping her deal with her own grief.

“They also are really hurting, and it helps me at the same time,” Penelope Protheroe said. “Reaching out helps the pain in my own life.”

Many of Penelope’s closest family members are dealing with serious health issues. But rather than focus on that, Penelope is motivated to help those less fortunate by providing clothing and food.

Thanks to social media, her ministry is growing. So many people are interested in volunteering to help that she is setting up a four-week training class online so people can get involved.

Penelope has been involved in outreach for 35 years. She became an ordained minister in 2008. But she really became absorbed in helping others after her sister died of hypothermia three years ago.

“No one should die of hypothermia,” she said. “With the right clothes on you’ll make it.”

She started out spending a few hundred dollars a month of her own money buying used clothes and giving them away to people lined up at food banks. She later placed a 4-foot-tall coat donation box at a local store and found that it was “filled every other day. I always had to empty it out.”

Penelope started collecting so many clothes she didn’t have enough room to store them, so she had a giant giveaway at a local library. “People lined up at the door,” she said. “I had no idea that many would show up. It all was gone in fifteen minutes.”

The second time she did it, she had three times the amount to give away. “So many want to donate what they have,” Penelope said. “They de-clutter their house.”

She said there are no qualifications for participants. “Take what you need, without being monitored,” she said.

Penelope doesn’t just give away stuff to the homeless. She gives away her time, too.

“We talk and share stories,” she said. “I feel a connection, like I’m touching somebody’s life. Their layers soften, and the walls come down.”

She also gives respect. She calls them by name. “They feel recognized, not anonymous,” Penelope said. “They don’t hear their names; they think they don’t matter.”

Working with the homeless, Penelope has learned to be more compassionate, and about a new meaning of love.

“It evolves, the love inside,” she said. “It’s tapped as you do it.”

Penelope prays with everyone, no matter their condition. She prayed for one man she knows just got high. She hopes she touched his soul.

“Maybe I am worthy,” she said is what she hoped he felt.

Penelope also advises folks to call 2–1-1, the hotline for the homeless. “They’re the hub,” she said, adding any group that does work to help homeless should contact 2-1-1 to get on the list of resources. One of her next goals is to use money donated to a GoFundMe account to publish a guide of resources to help the homeless.

Penelope said she finds homeless to be appreciative and generous.

“Street people try to help others,” she said. “What little they have they are willing to share.”

She said much of the time she can only give people short-term help, but sometimes she’s able to help turn lives around.

She mentioned one 18-year-old who was pregnant and living on the streets. Penelope was able to connect her to Cocoon House in Arlington, which was able to put a roof over her head.

Penelope also was able to help a man get into a trailer. She and a neighbor provided food and propane for heat, and also drove him to the food bank. He would even show up early to help there. Through family services he was able to get a phone, and then he also got some eyeglasses. He learned how to put together a resume and has applied for some jobs. “He feels so much better about himself,” Penelope said. “He’s washed, his hair is combed, and he’s presentable for a job interview.”

Get involved


•Donate to

•Attend a meeting March 15 from 5-6:30 p.m. at Cascade Valley Hospital, 330 S. Stillaguamish Ave., Arlington

•Attend a meeting March 16 from 4–5:30 p.m. at the Marysville library, 6120 Grove St.

•Link to webinar March 18 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at

•Link to webinar March 23 at the same time to start the four-week Street Ministry course at