Loaves and Fishes Serving Food and Music in Cambridge

Robert Sondak
Spare Change News

Every Saturday at 5:30 p.m., Loaves and Fishes Meals Program open its Magazine Street doors serving the homeless. Retirees and members of the community receive a hot restaurant-style buffet prepared by an experienced chef.

According to Fred Reece, one of the program’s founding members, the First Korean Church has been very supportive of Loaves and Fishes’ mission of feeding people facing food insecurity and homelessness in Cambridge.

“We are designated by the church for one day a week,” Reese said. “Saturday night is our night.”

Reece pointed out that the church has events throughout the week. He stated that the church sponsors many youth events for the Cambridge Korean community.

At 5 p.m., waiters go around and serve hot soup to the guests, usually vegetable or bean soup. While the soup is being served, other waiters pass out cups of apple and cranberry juice or cold water before the main meal. Beginning at 5:45 p.m., Chef Bill Pary brings out warm aluminum racks of food to be placed in a vertical serving line. Food servers work at any one of the ten hot food stations, ladling the food on to each of the guests’ trays as requested.

Starting at 6 p.m., the guests come up to the serving line, table by table. The chef serves seconds after all the members have been served a first time.

After setting up the serving line, Chef Bill goes out and greets the guests as they wait. This helps to create a feeling of community for the guests as well as the staff.

Loaves and Fishes has a large volunteer staff consisting of 30 to 50 people each week, depending on the season. This includes a large group of food servers like, usually between 12 to 20 people each week.

“I have been coming since last December,” Erica, from Wheelock College, said. “I like serving and helping people out.”

“I have come once before,” said Daniel, a Boston University teacher-lecturer. “I like helping people.” In the past 14 months, I have volunteered as a food server several times. I have found volunteering very rewarding and I like helping people.

In addition to food servers, they have a group of waiters and utility people who break down and clean up the dining hall, the storage area and the kitchen.

“I’ve been coming here to volunteer for a year now,” said John, a waiter.

“I have previously volunteered at other soup kitchens in the area.”

“I’m a new volunteer”, said Jen, a kitchen assistant. “I think the chef is doing a great job.”

Reece mentioned that the program’s Thanksgiving plans changed.

“We were going to have the Thanksgiving meal in Harvard Square,” Reece said. “The First Korean Church allowed us to use the space for the holiday meal at the last minute.”

In the October 21, 2011 edition of Spare Change News, Chef Bill stated that the meal program is now serving175 to 180 people in the spring, fall, and summer, and up to 250 in the winter. This represents at least a 50 percent increase in the membership population since I came on board last year.

I interviewed Chef Bill while he was cleaning up on Saturday, October 15, and asked him how the economy and high food costs were affecting his program.

“I am now looking for food 3 to 4 days a week.” Chef Bill said. “I’m calling people all the time. My food budget is very tight. We’re just getting by.”

While the food is being served to the guests, Earl leads an ensemble of musicians playing a rock/blues mixture. These musicians keep the guests entertained and contribute to the community which Loaves and Fishes has successfully built.

“The music ensemble is a four-piece group,” said John, one of the musicians. “We like coming here and playing for the community of people.”

John pointed out that the community is very supportive of the musicians and appreciates what they play.

During cleanup, Chef Bill stressed that the local business community helps Loaves and Fishes feed its guests. McKinnon’s Meat Market of Somerville and the Star Markets of Cambridge supply meat and poultry. This meal program also provides its guests with local organically grown New England produce from Food For Free, a Cambridge Hunger relief organization.

All of the food served is prepared under the leadership of Chef Bill. Chef Bill has experience working in the regional hospitality industry and in the restaurant industry. The food is fresh, meaning it’s usually prepared earlier the same day. With the exception of some of the desserts, all of the food is prepared in the First Korean Church kitchen. This week the meal included baked chicken, meat loaf, beef noodles, baked whitefish, sliced turkey, carrots, baked potatoes, and tuna noodle casserole. Cookies and angel food cake were served for dessert.

I asked Chef Bill to comment on the two new programs: food pantry and family lunch.

“The food pantry is one month old and has had a good turnout,” Chef Bill said. “The food pantry is open 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and distributes locally grown food. The family lunch has been scheduled once so far this past month. We hope to schedule more family lunches, and they start around 12:00 pm.”

ROBERT SONDAK IS A SPARE CHANGE VENDOR/WRITER

Food Servers At The Loaves And Fishes Meals Program On A Recent Saturday. Photo: Robert Sondak

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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