Community suppers: Good food, good company

Audience members were full but attentive at the Chilmark Community Center last Saturday. — Ralph Stewart

Sharing a meal with friends and neighbors can be the best way to lighten a long winter night. A number of the Island’s churches, restaurants, and organizations provide regular opportunities for shared fare. The meals are mostly free, which helps budget-conscious families in these difficult economic times.

Now in its 11th year, the Edgartown Community Supper invites Islanders to the Baylies Room in the Old Whaling Church on Mondays for a five-course meal from 5 to 6 pm. Parishioners from the United Methodist Church, with guidance from Karen Rego, plan a menu based on donations from Stop & Shop and Island Foods of soup, salad, entrée, and dessert.

According to Ms. Rego’s husband, Pastor Richard Rego, food that diners can take home with them is also available. Pastor Rego directs the Edgartown Liturgical Arts Center, as the United Methodist Church in Edgartown at the Old Whaling Church is now called.

“We have a lot of fun,” says Mr. Rego. “I try to work the tables and link up people who might not otherwise know each other.”

Between 65 and 70 Islanders show up, on average, with the number jumping to 90 or 95 during holidays. Mr. Rego says he has seen more families participate since the economic downturn.

Five times a season, Rotary Club members take over the volunteer duties at the Old Whaling Church and host the meal. Chappy resident and “On Time” ferry skipper E. St. John “Liz” Villard serves as the parishioners’ representative.

Chilmark Community Church Pastor Arlene Bodge says the Soup Suppers there on Tuesdays at 5:30 pm through February 23 include two or three kinds of homemade soups and freshly baked bread provided by United Methodist parishioners, including Pamela Goff, Ann Dietrich, and Judy Mayhew.

According to Ms. Goff, this Chilmark tradition grew out of a study group, and it was started two or three years ago by retired Methodist ministers Armen and Vicky Hanjian. Several dozen Chilmark residents usually show up to enjoy the meal and play the word game Bananagrams, which is similar to Scrabble. On some nights there is also music.

The Chilmark Community Church remains independent in contrast to the down-Island Methodist congregations, which in July consolidated into a single United Methodist Church with one worship center and two campuses. Trinity Church in Oak Bluffs is now called Trinity Worship Center, while the Stone Church in Vineyard Haven has become the Christian Mission Life Center with “Clothes to Go,” a free clothing exchange and the Island Food Pantry.

In West Tisbury, the First Congregational Church hosts a Community Supper at 5:30 pm on Wednesdays. Parishioners here were among the first to institute this type of event on the Island, according to Cathlin Baker, the church’s pastor.

“We fill up the parish hall,” Ms. Baker says. The number of diners ranges from 40 to 60, with entrées like roast beef or turkey donated by Cronig’s, and church committees rotate responsibilities. Junior church members organize entertainment or decorations on holidays.

“We’re trying to solve the transportation problem,” Ms. Baker says. “The idea is to bring someone else with you to promote fellowship.” Donations or side dishes are welcome for the dinners, which continue through March.

Teens in grades 9 through 12 can enjoy a free meal on Friday nights at the YMCA’s Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center in Oak Bluffs. On the first Sunday of the month, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at the Merchant’s Mart in Vineyard Haven holds a Potluck Luncheon at 1 pm. Diners are asked to bring a dish or dessert.

Some Island restaurants are also offering special event meals. In Edgartown, Détente has planned a “Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard” dinner on Thursday, January 7, and again on Thursday, January 28. The five-course Italian-inspired menu will feature fresh local ingredients, and 10 percent of the $55 prix fixe will go to Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard.

Zephrus Restaurant at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven offers Loc@l Zephrus every Wednesday from 5 to 9 pm. Island Grown Initiative receives 20 percent of the revenue from the three-course prix fixe meals.

Brooks Robards is a regular contributor to The Times.