Every Thursday throughout the year, the homeless gather with Cambridge residents for a hot meal prepared by a local cook.
The Harvard Square Churches Meal Program is a partnership between two women experienced in hunger outreach, Lieby Bouchard and Laurie Howell, along with two local cooks and a group of Harvard Square churches. This program provides an average of at least 100 meals on a walk in basis to those homeless or living in the nearby neighborhood.
The Harvard Square Churches Meal Program was founded in 1982 at Christ Church, the Episcopal church of Harvard Square. Over a period of three decades, it has evolved into a program that serves a traditional American entree of chicken, turkey or fish, with a side of potatoes, along with a tofu entree for vegetarians.
“We are supported by the churches in Harvard Square,” said Bouchard. “Christ Church has given us the kitchen to prepare the food and the side chapel to serve our members.”
According to Howell, the Harvard Square Churches Meal Program has grown over the past decade from 95 members to 135.
“Our Thursday night meal some weeks is packed to the limit,” said Howell. “We provide nutritious meal to anyone in need and turn no one away.”
Harvard Square churches have been financially supportive of the Thursday night meals programs since its inception in the early 1980’s. These local religious institutions include the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, Cambridge Friends Meeting House, Harvard Epworth Church and the University Lutheran Church. This diverse group of religious organizations have been very active the in support of programs that fight hunger within the city of Cambridge.
“Volunteers from our local churches work regularly at the Thursday meal,” said Howell.
Along with members of the Cambridge community and Christ Church, the volunteer base has grown to include college students from Harvard, MIT, Lesley and Babson; volunteers also include students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School who need community service credits. Members of the business community also volunteer, as do people from the Just A Start youth program, and people needing court- approved community service.
Volunteers make up three kitchen teams each week. The first team are the kitchen assistants who work under the direction of Cook Dennis. Team one prepares the food to be roasted or sautéed. The second team, which is the largest volunteer group, are the waiters who serve the food in large restaurant-sized paper platters. The third team brings out the bananas, vegetables and bread for people to take home with them. They also serve the dessert in small paper plates.
“We use a very large volunteer base to serve all of our members in a very hospitable manner,” said Howell.
Along with providing a meat entree, Harvard Square Churches Meal Program provides a vegetarian alternative consisting of surplus organic produce from Enterprise and Red Fire farms, via Food For Free, the Cambridge hunger relief agency. In addition, the meals program gets surplus food from Whole Foods, via Food For Free.
“The members like the food that the waiters serve,” said Steve, a Rindge and Latin High School student volunteer. “The members like the conscious effort on the part of all the volunteers.”
Other vegetarian foods include a tofu chili served over rice with multi-colored greens. The vegetarian dishes provide members with a healthy option and an alternative to eating meat. They also expose individuals to new foods weekly in a community-based atmosphere.
“The food that we serve, the kitchen staff makes in-house and on the same day,” said Joshua Martin. a Harvard University student volunteer and waiter.
The meat and starch dishes prepared by Cook Dennis and served at the last meal were tuna fish salad and potato and macaroni salads. The vegetable side dishes included a spiced tomato salad with black pepper, and steamed yellow summer squash. In addition, sliced cucumbers were added as a side dish. Dessert was a sliced black pound cake topped with vanilla ice cream and sherbet for diabetics.
Two members commented about the food served at the last meal “I have been coming here for twenty years,” said Shanthi. “I like the variety of food each week,” said Darrel, an oil painter. “They have good food every week.”