As the temperature fell below freezing last Thursday night, several volunteers and a few dozen guests gathered in the lower level of St. Augustine’s Church in Vineyard Haven for warm company and a hot meal. The tasty menu included a variety of pasta dishes, Caesar salad, bread rolls, and an assortment of desserts prepared by church volunteers. All was free of charge.
Brenda Piland of Tisbury attends several dinners at various churches throughout the week. “The suppers are a way to connect and socialize,” she said. “You look forward to it.”
Another frequent diner, Linda Andrews of Oak Bluffs, said, “A lot of people, they come here for that, the community.”
Delores Valeriano of Oak Bluffs has been going to the suppers since her husband died. “It’s hard to cook by yourself, for one,” she said. “Also, for many people living on their social security, with the food prices going up, this helps a lot.”
The suppers also are a way to form new friendships. Ms. Valeriano socializes with Ms. Piland and Ms. Andrews outside the dinners. “Sometimes we go to the movies together; we have fun,” said Ms. Valeriano.
Thursday night’s dinner was a new experience for Sally Sylvia of Vineyard Haven. “I just left work, and to not have to go home, cook a dinner, use that gas and electricity, and to get out and see people, that’s good,” she said.
Ms. Sylvia said the cost savings will help her to afford her utility bills. Chatting away at a table, Ms. Sylvia said she plans to bring a friend who recently lost her husband. “People haven’t got enough food or company, and this is a perfect solution,” she said.
Annette Moreis of Vineyard Haven grew up on the Island. She said she was without a home for two years due to high rent. Now that she has stable housing, she volunteers at the suppers almost every night.
“I was going couch to couch,” she said. “You’d get up each day and try to find a place to stay that night, and if you didn’t get in contact, you had to stay out. When I didn’t have a place to stay, this is where I ate, five days a week. I’ve been there, I know what it’s like to try and find a meal. Now I want to give what I didn’t have.”
She stressed the value of the community suppers to families, whether or not they could get food elsewhere. “People should know they can bring their family here,” she said.
Connie Teixeira, one of the main supper organizers, is a woman with many hats; she also holds the title of Dukes County associate commissioner for the homeless. She considers the meals a form of outreach to struggling Islanders, a place where she can find out what people need, and as such they benefit the community.
“It gives people from the Island a place to meet, when they wouldn’t ordinarily,” she said. “And for some people, this is the main meal of the day. For the homeless, if you have a dinner meal, you might not freeze to death. You fuel up.”
Ms. Teixeira and an interfaith council of ministers, rabbis and priests have been coordinating with other aid organizations on the Island to keep people housed and fed. The community suppers have become a foundation of the effort. “It takes all of us together to make this work,” she said.
Assembled over the course of several years, the dinners are now served seven nights a week. For many, it helps to get through the long off-season.
Funding for the meals comes from several sources. Each year, the Methodist churches donate $5,000 and Dukes County provides $1,000. The rest is paid for by the Island clergy and private contributions. Because the community suppers are run entirely by volunteers, the money goes directly from donors to providing free meals.
Community supper schedule
Monday: 5pm, Edgartown, Old Whaling Church (508-693-4424)
Tuesday: 5.30pm, Chilmark Community Church (508-645-3100)
Wednesday: 5.30pm, West Tisbury Congregational Church (508-693-2842)
Thursday: 5pm, Vineyard Haven, St. Augustine’s Church (508-693-0342)
Friday: 5pm, Vineyard Haven, Grace Church (508-693-0332) (While under construction through February, Grace Church will hold its community suppers at First Baptist Church, corner of Williams and Spring Streets.)
Saturday: 6pm, Oak Bluffs, Trinity Methodist Church (508-693-3780)
Sunday: 12.30pm, Edgartown, Federated Church (508-627-4421)