Almost thirty years ago Community Cooks Co-Founder Victoria I and a group of Somerville neighbors made their first meal for the Somerville Homeless Coalition’s adult shelter. Each household made one part of the meal with one person coordinating and another responsible for delivery. These Somerville residents cared about the rise of homelessness and wanted to do something to support their community. What started out as a volunteer group of eight in 1990, soon blossomed to nonprofit 510 (c) 3 with 1,000 volunteers servicing breakfast, snacks or dinner to over 60 programs. Today, 143 neighborhood volunteer teams prepare and deliver meals to 5,100 people monthly.
“Community Cooks is unique because our model is to provide home-cooked meals” says Kate Berliner, Program Manager Community Cooks. For almost five years, Community Cooks’ volunteer teams have been providing monthly meals to both MHSA men’s and women’s shelters in Waltham, MA. Kate adds, “Food entices clients to programs to get the services they require. Food brings people together”. An example of how valuable their services are, we spent an evening at the MHSA’s women’s shelter.
It’s a typical Monday night at the MHSA Bristol Lodge Women’s Shelter. The doors open and clients start entering at 4:15pm. This evening could have started out on a different note, as unexpected maintenance repairs are being done near the kitchen where clients usually are able to cook. But the shelter staff are relaxed, “Community Cooks are coming tonight and the timing could not be better,” says Annette Poirier MHSA Program Director, Men’s & Women’s Shelters and Bristol Lodge Soup Kitchen. Annette adds, “Instead of scrambling to make a last-minute dinner plan, we get to greet our clients and hear about their days.” One woman has just applied for health insurance and another has a job interview this week.
The food arrives just before 5:00pm. The Community Cooks volunteer group, Raytheon is delivering, and spreads an array of delicious home cooked dishes that completely cover the table. Lisa Menelly, the team leader tells us about her group and carefully describes each dish and its ingredients, along with a few words about the person who prepared it. Lisa explains that their busy group likes to pick a theme for each meal to help coordinate their dishes, while giving the clients some variety. This week’s theme? Comfort food!
Displayed in the center of the table is a giant platter of shepherd’s pie, two trays of chicken dumplings and seasoned Brussel sprouts. The deliciousness continues with a gorgeous salad, hearty baked mac and cheese and a homemade frosted Bundt cake for dessert. A few extra treats were added, including bottles of water, cranberry juice, cider donuts, fresh apples, and – just for fun, Halloween candy!
Lisa expressed how their group felt about their work “Doing this is a gift. We really get so much out of it.” And what the women shelter clients get from their generous efforts is a fresh, healthy meal that they do not need to prepare. After a day at work, attending medical appointments, or applying for housing, they can come in and just enjoy a nice meal together.