Local Chef Provides Free Meals for Homeless in Somerville

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

On the second Friday of each month, homeless and retirees gather for a hot meal created by a local chef. The Hearty Meals For All program, hosted by the Somerville Community Baptist Church, is a collaborating partnership between two experienced social workers (Rebecca Gallo and Emily Bullen) and up and coming chef YvetteTaylor. This program provides an average of 50 to 60 meals on a walk-in basis to those who are homeless or live in the nearby neighborhood.

The Hearty Meals For All was founded ago in July 2009. This program evolved over a period of six months after Bullen, a vegetarian, and Gallo, a non-vegetarian, contacted every church, temple and mosque in Somerville.

“We got a response from Pastor Vic Scalise at the Somerville Community Baptist Church the next day,” said
Gallo. “Pastor Scalise invited us to join the Somerville Community Baptist Church family of affiliated programs.“

Along with serving healthy and wholesome food to members and volunteers, Hearty Meals For All also creates a welcoming, safe atmosphere for everyone, including the homeless and people living in the local neighborhood, to come and eat dinner.

“We feel that if someone would like a good meal in a welcoming atmosphere, then we would love them to come-no matter their circumstances,” said Gallo.

According to Bullen, the Hearty Meals For All program started with only 25 members and now averages 60.

“Our program is growing by leaps and bounds,” said Bullen. “This is a good starting point and represents a growing interest in our program by the community.”

The Somerville Community Baptist Church has been supportive of the program since it began last year. “The church has given us use of their kitchen and dining room to serve the food,” said Bullen. “The church supports having a program helping the homeless and local community.” Bullen continued, “Church members volunteer on a regular basis. They represent one of our major core support groups. “

Along with the Somerville Community Baptist Church, the food program volunteer base has also grown to include the Somerville Girl Scouts and local colleges like Tufts University. Church members form the most experienced of the core groups that make up the volunteer-base for this Somerville organization. Church members make up two kitchen teams. The first team includes waiters that help to serve the members. The second team includes kitchen assistants that work directly with the chef, preparing the food to be put in or taken out of the oven and setting the food to be placed in the dinning room.

“Volunteers serve the members, so nobody stands in a long line and when they are done serving, volunteers sit down and eat with members,” said Gallo. “The idea is that volunteers and members are one in the same.”

Along with providing cooked meat like chicken, beef and lamb, Hearty
Meals For All is unique for a meals program in that they offer a vegetarian alternative made from surplus organic produce from Amherest-based Enterprise Farms via Food For Free, the Cambridge hunger relief organization. They are also developing collaborations with local distributors such as bread from When Pigs Fly of Somerville, and pasta from Dave’s Fresh Pasta of Cambridge.

The program offers a vegetarian or (vegan) option at each meal. The vegetarian food served at the last meal included corn on the cob and salad greens (from Food For Free), homemade cookies prepared by a volunteer and tofu salad created by a recipe from Chef Taylor. Past vegetarian dishes have included soy-tempeh, lentils, tofu marsala and vegetarian chili.

“The vegetarian dishes demonstrate creative and affordable ways to eat healthy without eating meat,” said Gallo. “The vegetarian dishes provide individuals with a healthy option for those who choose not to eat meat or who want to supplement their meat diet.”

The meat and dairy dish prepared by Chef Taylor and served at the last meal included turkey salad with Greek yogurt. The turkey that was used in the summer salad was grown locally in Massachusetts by New Beginning Farms based in Townsend. All of the food served by Hearty Meals For All is prepared under the leadership of Chef Taylor, who is introducing organic and locally grown food to the homeless rather than canned and processed food.

“We try to get food locally as much as we can including meats as well as produce,“ said Chef Taylor. For more information on the Hearty
Meals for All Program visit, http://heartymealsforall.org/about-us.html

Robert Sondak is a Spare Change News vender and writer. Robert studied Food
Science and Dietetics at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New York. Robert has also worked at Massachusetts General Hospital, the New England Medical Center and nutrition interned for the old Boston Food Bank at Jackson Square. Currently, Robert is the Executive Director for the Nutrition Education Outreach Project. http://neopneopsite11.com.