Each week during the colder Massachusetts months, about 125 people meet in a renovated parish hall in Harvard Square for a free Friday lunch.
The Friday Cafe is a one day a week day shelter and lunch run by Rev. Kate Layzer. This program offers a wide range of services designed to help either the homeless or low-income residents of Cambridge.
The Cafe, founded in November 2014, has just entered its fifth year. The First Church of Cambridge sponsors the cafe in its Garden Street parish hall. The hours are between 1p.m. to 5 p.m., September through June. It serves lunch that is prepared in-house, in the newly renovated church kitchen. (Full disclosure: As a cook and chef, I’ve also prepared hot dishes for the Friday Cafe myself.)
“We recruit 30 volunteers a week and 100 per year, “ Layzer said. “We also have five to 10 volunteer cooks that work behind the scene to supply our weekly buffet.”
Food donations are provided from a variety of local restaurants, along with Harvard University-based food service programs.
The cafe also runs a volunteer co-ed clothing bank. The clothing bank opens every Friday at 2 p.m. It provides casual women’s’ and men’s attire along with winter outerwear when available and toiletries to people who need them.
Additionally, the cafe features a small community library and art materials. There is also a sleep room in the front Mason Street side of the parish hall for people who need to get some shut-eye.
This program provides a very warm atmosphere, space whereby homeless and local people can eat and chat together surrounded by music. These amenities help to create a sense of community connection that is safe for everyone.
Layzer, Director of the Friday Cafe, dashes around from table to table coordinating program operations, assisting volunteers with questions, and chatting with both cafe regulars and newcomers. She also answers questions about housing or shelter services and food stamps for members who have questions.
Layzer said she is very active in the local community.
“I am a church member and also serve on the staff as the Ministry of the Street Outreach,” Layzer said. “I also serve on the board of the Cambridge Continuum of Care.”
The cafe has also hosted a social worker from Elliot Human Services. “They come when available to direct outreach to our homeless guests whom may be in need of services,” Layzer said.
She added that there are a few other new outreach services.
“We have started to host nurses from the city [Department of Public Health] to offer vaccinations. The Cambridge Needle Exchange visits periodically to check on our guests and offer NARCAN training. We also host a monthly workshop by members of the Transformative Action Project offering art, poetry, and other interventions to survivors of violence,” Layzer said.
Layzer pointed out that the First Church of Cambridge has a long history of supporting homeless ministries directly and indirectly.
First Church of Cambridge directly supports The Friday Cafe by allowing the program to use its Garden Street parish hall and kitchen. They also provide church space for 14 beds at the men’s shelter.
“The First Church offers a unique two-part model united in mission and with distinctive provisions, addressing both daily acute needs and the slower patient work of solid shelter and counsel,” Layzer said. “Both the cafe and men’s shelter provide hospitality to the community without religious content or solicitation.”
Layzer said that the church supports other homeless ministries like the Outdoor Church, a religious ministry providing Sunday morning and afternoon services to homeless men and women in Cambridge.
“Our church children help to prepare sandwiches for the Outdoor Church, and this helps to raise their awareness of hunger. Church members also prepare sandwiches to be distributed on the street,” Layzer said.