Nourishment for the winter soul

Lauren Trubiano, Andrew Hahn, and Lauren's son Michael Bizzaro at the Grace Church. Photo by Ralph Stewart
(From left to right) Lauren "Bebe" Trubiano, Andrew Hahn, and Lauren's son Michael Bizzaro pick up bowls of soup at the Grace Church kitchen window. Photo by Ralph Stewart

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - March 2, 2006

"What do you do on the Island all winter?" Year-round Islanders have stock answers to questions such as this one. Flippant or philosophical, the answers usually don't convey the true spirit of the winter Island. It is in the off-season that we celebrate life in a small community and that community becomes a family around the dinner table.

On an island we are connected by more than just common experiences. These connections become very clear at any of the three weekly community suppers served on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from October through March. Monday's meal is served in the Baylis Room at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown, hosted by the United Methodist Church. On Wednesday, dinner is served at the First Congregational Church in West Tisbury. The soup is on at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven every Friday night.

Community suppers

Monday, 5 pm, Old Whaling Church, Baylis Room, Main Street, Edgartown. Edgartown United Methodist Church. Weekly through April 10. Free. Donations accepted.

Wednesday, 5:30 pm, First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, State Road. Weekly through March 29. Free. Donations accepted.

Friday, 5 pm, Grace Episcopal Church, Woodlawn Avenue, Vineyard Haven. Weekly through March 31. Free. Donations accepted.

Other community meals to check out:

Sunday, March 5, 8-10 am, American Legion Post 257, 34 William Street, Vineyard Haven. Full breakfast. Monthly through April 2. $6 for adults and $3 for children. Menu varies, but it's always good. Eggs, pancakes, potatoes with or without peppers, and more.

Sunday, March 19, 8:30-10:30 am, Portuguese-American Club, Vineyard Avenue, Oak Bluffs. All-you-can-eat breakfast. Monthly. $7 for adults and $4 for children. When they say "full breakfast," they mean it.

Occasionally (check weekly listings), First Baptist Church, 43 Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. Meals include barbecue pork, chicken, and other entrées with delicious side dishes. The Rev. Roger Spinney loves to cook.

Just like our Island towns, each community supper has a flavor all its own. And just like many Island traditions it's hard to pin down exactly when it all started. "It's been going on for as long as anyone can remember," was the common response to questions about the community supper's history. It is clear that their long histories are not as important as the actual meals.

This year the small congregation of the Edgartown United Methodist Church faced a challenge to keep the Monday meals coming. Giving up the meal was not an option, so the church asked the Rotary Club of Martha's Vineyard for help. Now, responsibility for the Monday meal is shared. The meals continue and have evolved with new menu items as well as new community members doing KP duty.

A smiling Pastor Nancy Collins greets the Monday diners. Then she table-hops like a seasoned maitre-d', making sure everyone feels welcome and pointing out the delicious options like homemade desserts or a special vegetable side dish. Sometimes the Monday meal is a real loaves and fishes miracle because they never know just how many people will show up. Somehow there is always plenty of food for everyone. According to Ms. Collins, they can serve close to 100 meals on a Monday in March.

Generous Island businesses such as Island Food Products, Stop and Shop, and Cash and Carry provide food donations, but the cooks never know what they will be preparing until they open the boxes. It's this serendipity that adds a special quality to the meals, but it's the hard work of the volunteers in the kitchen that make the Monday meals happen.

"There are different kinds of nourishment," said Sophia Anthony as she served up bowls of warm soup on a recent Monday night. "There is nourishment for the body and for the soul." Both needs are being met, judging from the lively conversations coming from the long tables in the Baylis Room. Old friends and new friends, strangers no longer, talked over plates of delicious food, chewing on Island news and crusty bread. Everyone left completely sated.

"Dinner is served." With that announcement the lights in the church hall in West Tisbury dim, creating a lovely ambiance. The tiny candles on each table glow and the red-and-white checked tablecloths frame plates full of homemade food. Each week the meal is prepared by a different church committee, explained Brenda Lehman of Oak Bluffs, a church deacon. Donations of food come from Cronig's Market, which provides the main entrée, and the Black Dog, which donates baked goods.

Rick Reinhardsen of West Tisbury, also a church deacon, said the dinners began as homemade soup and bread meals, and they have been served "as long as anyone can remember." Now the meals are a soup-to-nuts affair. When the deacons host their meal on March 15, they will serve an international fare. Mr. Reinhardsen is also excited about the turkey dinner served on March 29, the final meal of the season. The turkey dinner has become a tradition that everyone looks forward to eagerly.

What better way to celebrate a community supper than with this very traditional meal that has come to symbolize a family gathering?

Friday at the Grace Episcopal Church isn't just for soup anymore. In fact, the Friday meal has been much more than soup for some years now, but the name "soup supper" has stuck for good reason. Is there any other place on the Island where you can begin a meal with four or five different homemade soups? Sample one or all of the delicious soups and then try the entrée and side dishes. Members of the church sign up to bring the food, and again Island businesses donate ingredients.

"As single people, this is the kind of food we miss," said Stephen Ellis of Vineyard Haven. More importantly, community meals provide an opportunity for social interaction. At Mr. Ellis's table the conversation flows easily and people passing his table stop by and say hello.

Bebe Trubiano of Oak Bluffs said she "just wanted to be out," so she brought her son and his friend to the Friday supper a few weeks ago. The young men quickly got into the spirit of the meal, trying different foods, talking to others at the table, and gobbling down dessert.

The new priest, Father Robert Hensley, jumped right into the Friday routine just a few days after his recent arrival here from Washington D.C. He looked very much at home at his first soup supper a few weeks ago and last week he ladled out soup, passing the warm bowls through the window to waiting hands like a pro.

A true gem
A visit to one of the community suppers is like picking up a bit of beach glass or wampum from the sand. You feel like you have made a true find. The community suppers are like unpolished gems: unpretentious meals, served with love, in the true spirit of friendship. Do not miss the opportunity to reach out and be part of the Island community.