Their Christmas Eve included homeless men

For Zandra Jones, volunteering on Christmas Eve is no big deal. It’s like picking up someone’s dropped napkin.

Black Diamond family cooked and served dinner for shelter as part of 18-church venture

For Zandra Jones, volunteering on Christmas Eve is no big deal. It’s like picking up someone’s dropped napkin.

“You do what you do,” she says.

On that night last week, Jones and her Black Diamond family — sons Ian, 20, and Justin, 27, and fiance Gene Davis — served a home-cooked dinner to the 20-some homeless men expected at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in downtown Renton.

Before leaving home, Jones and her family planed to light the candles of their menorah in celebration of Hanukkah. The Jewish holiday ran from Dec. 22 to 29. If they had time, the family also planned to visit Jones’ sister or brother before making the half-hour drive to the church.

Jones and her sons are Jewish; her fiance isn’t. The family no longer attends a synagogue, but they observe Jewish holidays like Hanukkah and light the Sabbath candles each Friday night.

This is the second year in a row Jones and her family served Christmas Eve dinner to the homeless men of ARISE. Short for Area of Renton Interfaith Shelter Endeavor, ARISE is a shelter for homeless men that moves to a new Renton church each month. St. Luke’s hosted the men last month.

Jones signed her family up for Christmas Eve dinner last year after a former co-worker told her of the need for volunteers.

Volunteers and members of the 18 to 20 ARISE churches ensure the men receive dinner and breakfast year-round. But Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are “always challenging,” says Bobbie Roney, ARISE site operations chairwoman and vice president of the board. She calls the service of Jones and her family “a gift to the program.”

“I think it’s just wonderful that they recognize that it’s our Christian holiday and they found a way to come forward and be part of serving the community,” Roney says.

Jones jokes that her youngest, Ian, was introduced to community service in her womb. She was a “pregnant popcorn mom” with him, selling popcorn for a school PTA. She volunteered for years in the Tahoma School District before taking a job as a paraeducator at Tahoma Junior High.

The boys “grew up volunteering” in Boy Scouts and helping various organizations with their parents, Jones said.

Jones herself “grew up with a mother who drug me to every volunteer activity in the world,” she said. “I just grew up knowing that’s what you do.”

Jones’ mom, Jackie, is now 74. But Jones says she’s still volunteering. “And God be willing they’ll do it with their children,” Jones says of her boys. “It’s just second nature.”

Jones enlisted her family to help ARISE partly to give a break to the organization’s tireless employees and volunteers. “We wanted to do something as a family, not only to help the men in the program, but also the families that every single day make sandwiches and cook meals,” she says.

Serving the men in 2007 convinced Justin Jones to resume working with the homeless. The men were all smiles as they went through the buffet line of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, salad, green-bean casserole, rolls and pumpkin pies.

“Every single man was grateful and made a point of saying it,” Jones says. “They had huge smiles. I just remember walking away and knowing there was so much gratitude in that room, and good feelings.”

Jones, who planned to cook the same meal for last week, insists her clan isn’t a “super family. We’re really just everyday people.”

She encourages others to “say, ‘What can I do to make a difference today?’”