In the basement of a historic Wellesley church that can trace its history back to the Puritan era, a modern and spacious industrial kitchen buzzes with activity. Volunteers, masked and socially distant, work together under the direction of Gary Arthur, a member of Wellesley Village Church with 17 years of experience in managing food services in large industrial kitchens. Like a well-oiled machine, group members work at their stations to prepare and package hundreds of healthy and delicious meals that will be distributed to food insecure beneficiaries in locations ranging from Wellesley to the Greater Boston area.
The feeding program is called “Village Table” at Wellesley Village Church, and it was launched into the church’s fully licensed commercial kitchen in response to increased food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic. “People are hungry,” says Arthur, “and they’re lining up to eat. Food insecurity is at the top of the list of problems for many. But there is something we can do about it.
It was quite a big thing. Already more than 1000 meals per month are coming out. This number includes ongoing donations to the community refrigerator program in Jamaica Plain, Dorchester and Roslindale; Metrowest Family Promise; Free food in Cambridge; A place to turn to Natick; and pantries both here in Wellesley and beyond.
In addition, during Thanksgiving, a group sponsored and delivered hot meals, clothing and personal items to more than 300 people on the “Methadone Mile” in Boston, a one-mile stretch of Massachusetts Avenue. There, volunteers served people struggling with issues that could include nutritional deficiency and / or hunger; addiction; be under-housed; loss of community of origin; and mental illness.
On a mission
Maintaining the dignity of each individual is essential to Village Table’s mission. “We don’t want anyone to feel disadvantaged or feel pressured to identify as needy. We really try to minimize the shame, ”says Arthur. It is about looking at food needs through the lens of the community. If a person is food secure, it does not mean that they are not affected by the food insecurity of others. “Need is something that affects the whole community,” he says.
To this end, the food at the Table du Village is anything but hastily prepared rations. Meals are nutritious and delicious, lovingly prepared and packaged by volunteers dedicated to helping others. Teriyaki Chicken Skewers on an Udon Noodle Salad is an example of the kind of quality meal Village Table offers. Lemon roasted chicken with farro and stewed vegetables is another. Meals are prepared in two separate 3-hour cooking sessions, then packaged for delivery in a third session. The distribution is managed by a combination of volunteers from Wellesley and those from the Greater Boston community who load their vehicles and transport meals to where they are needed. We are talking about more than a thousand meals per month, since the start of the program in fall 2020.
“We officially started in September for the pilot. Arthur explains. “We got funds together and we started doing it. October was our first operation. We had planned 600 meals. But in a bread and fish scenario, additional donations allowed the group to stretch their resources and reach that milestone of 1,000 meals, all without sacrificing portion size or quality.
Coincidence? I do not think so
Providence has apparently set to work to reach this point. Three years ago, Arthur and his wife Carmen Suen moved to Wellesley with their two children, who they enrolled in their neighborhood public primary school. The family went to the village church, felt comfortable there and joined the congregation.
Arthur had a lifetime of experience in industrial restoration. “I have been managing food services for large industrial kitchens for 17 years. U Chicago. Notre Dame. ”Perhaps his most important concert was at Texas A&M University, where he was part of the team that handled the delivery of 30,000 meals a day to 41 campus locations. Then an opportunity at MIT brought the family to the Boston area, which led to Arthur starting a new business on his own. Once COVID hit, this project was temporarily put on hold. “I realized that Maybe God was saying that was not my way right now, ”he said.
Once that reveal took place, things started to fall into place with Village Table. Fast.
The Chief Pastor, the Reverend Dr Sarah Butter, was very much in agreement with the idea of using the church’s commercial kitchen to help serve the greater good. “We live in a hungry world. People are physically and spiritually hungry, and hungry for care and community. Village Table emerged at just the right time, with just the right leadership, to work at the intersection of these hunger pangs. Volunteers and beneficiaries are fed through the process of buying, cooking, packing and delivering meals to anyone in need of a little care. It is a wonderful embodiment of love living in community, in real time, in a real way. I am grateful for Gary’s vision and the infectious energy that gave birth to this ministry that nourishes so many people in so many ways.
Indeed, there is a lot of gratitude to be shared. Arthur credits the Foundation for MetroWest with the recent $ 5,000 grant from the nonprofit to support the work of Village Table. He also thanks New England Country Mart, a wholesaler as well as a direct-to-consumer grocery delivery platform which supplies top quality fresh produce to restaurants, institutions and grocery stores. “The Country Mart provides us with a lot of food,” says Arthur.
How to volunteer
There is no doubt that As Village Table increases its reach, more volunteers will be needed for help with shopping, food supply, gardening, cooking, cleaning, distribution, marketing, grant writing, etc. But for now, due to concerns over COVID, volunteering is limited to a small group of church members. The hope is that in the near future, anyone with the time and heart to serve will be invited to participate.
“There is enough love in this city to make a difference for hungry people. This is the part I love, ”says Arthur.
Keep Village Table close to your heart right now
It would be a notable omission to leave aside a recent tragic turn of events that affected Gary Arthur and his family. Our thoughts are with Gary as he mourns the sudden death of his 44-year-old son, Michael David, who was shot and killed last week in a robbery at the store where he worked in Portland, Oregon.
Although this story was written before this tragedy, Gary’s pastor, the Reverend Sarah Butter, on behalf of Wellesley Village Church, invites donations to the Table du Village in memory of Michael David Arthur.