When North Thurston High School alumnus Chris Shilley (class of 1993) met his future wife, Timberline alumna Chandra (class of 1990) through mutual friends, he had no idea what they would do for their community someday.
The two followed separate career paths after high school; Chris enrolled in the Navy, married, and moved to California. Chandra also married, moving to Tennessee. Eventually, they both found themselves back in their hometown of Olympia, where the two bonded over their love of the town and their young children. After five years together, the family moved to Centralia for work.
In the last few years, the couple noticed increasing numbers of homeless and people in-need around their city. Since then, they have become inspired to aid the homeless population. They were especially passionate about retired military (Chris having served in the Navy and Chandra growing up a military child). The two founded Open Arms in June 2016, a Centralia-based organization that aims to provide food, hygiene products, and other supplies to people in need.
“While we did ‘start’ this outreach- we all have a role,” Chris said. “We don't do it alone. We rely on donations and volunteers from friends, family and the community to provide items that are in need for people.”
The Shilleys organize local efforts to create care packages, provide access to homeless resources, and offer sack meals every Wednesday. Camping gear, grocery gift cards, and pet supplies are frequently available as well (depending on donations). Their membership, which numbers over 1,500 people, distribute these items, serve meals at the Centralia Amtrak Station, and make house calls. Members have also set up “blessing boxes,” mailbox-like receptacles filled with clothing and food, around Centralia to provide anonymously for those in need. The couple even held an Easter supper for families, including dyed eggs and Easter baskets for kids, with a turnout of almost 100 people.
Centralia locals from schools and churches have been quick to lend support for the organization: building supply kits, knitting hats, donating used clothing, etc. The Shilleys have been stunned by the appreciation and participation of their community.
“Everyone has the right to eat! Everyone deserves to be treated with respect,” said Chris. “I hope that we can make a difference in just ONE person's life. If we do that, then [we] have succeeded.
Follow their efforts on Facebook.