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Loaves and Fishes Meals Program offers restaurant-style setting

 Spare Change News (USA) 01 November 2019

Every Saturday, homeless people, retirees and members of the community gather for a large hot meal prepared by an experienced Cambridge chef. Thirty minutes before the buffet is set up, a small food pantry distributes breads, fresh fruits and available greens. (861 Words) - By Robert Sondak

The Loaves and Fishes Meals Program is a collaborating partnership between chef Bill Pary and the First Korean Church of Cambridge. This meals program serves 10 to 15 dishes in a restaurant-style setting.

The Loaves and Fishes Meals Program was founded in 1980 at Pilgrim Church. Over a period of three decades, the program has undergone two major changes. Chef Walter retired and was succeeded by chef Pary, and the church changed names from the Pilgrim Baptist to the First Korean Church. It has also evolved into a program serving a traditional American menu of chicken, turkey, beef and vegetarian dishes.

"We are now averaging 150 to 200 members a week", said chef Pary. "This is since I became chef six months ago."

According to Chef Pary, the program has grown over the past two decades by 50 percent. This is  partly due to the change in the food from a bland menu  to more of a buffet style, in which people come up to each table and select from over fifteen entries. The program offers a different variety each week.

"The members have been very supportive," said chef Pary. "They have made suggestions that I have started to incorporate into the menu."

According to Fred Reece, one of the programs founding members, 35 Magazine Street was originally the home of the Pilgrim Baptist Church. Pilgrim Church closed its doors in 1995 due to a declining membership. The First Korean Church moved in later that month and has continued to support the meals program.

"Church members volunteer on a regular basis," said Reece. "They represent one of our major core support groups."

Along with the First Korean Church the food program volunteer base has grown to include a dedicated group of volunteers. The members of the Cambridge community form the most experienced of the groups that make up the base for this organization. Members of the community form two kitchen teams. The first team includes a series of kitchen assistants that work directly with the chef preparing the food to be put in or taken out of the oven and setting the food to be placed in trays to be placed on tables in the dinning room. The second team includes food servers that work at any one of the thirteen hot food stations and ladle the food on to the members' plastic plates. The third team includes general volunteers that form the support group of extra servers and cleanup people. The fourth team of volunteers consists of church members that break down and clean up the dinning room, and wash the pans and utensils in the kitchen. The church people also make up a team of extra servers.

"We have a large group of volunteers that help serve our members weekly," said chef  Pary. "Most of these people come every week."

In addition to providing meat and vegetarian dishes, Loaves and Fishes is unique for a meals program in that they feature a buffet, in which members can come up and select the food that they want to eat. This program also provides people with locally grown surplus organic produce from Food For Free, a Cambridge hunger relief organization. They are also developing collaborations with local food distributors like Mckinnon's Meat Market of Davis Square, and the Star Market stores of Cambridge.

The program offers a vegetarian (vegan) option at each meal. The vegetarian food served at the last meal included an herbal vegetarian ravioli served with fresh tomatoes. The side dishes served by Chef Bill included homemade potato salad sprinkled with paprika, cole slaw and steamed carrots from Food For Free. Past vegetarian dishes included pasta primavera with fresh tomatoes.

The meat-and-dairy dish prepared by chef Bill and served at the last meal included sliced turkey and roast beef along with baked chicken and fried whitefish. The poultry was supplied by Mckinnon's Meat Market and Star Market. Chef Bill also served a meat-based ravioli.

All of the food is prepared under the leadership of chef Pary. Chef Pary has previously worked for the Marriot hotel food service organization and has experience working in restaurants.

"I have contacted local food distributors for food," said chef Pary. "I will continue to contact distributors."

A volunteer member from the Loaves and Fishes Meals Program also spoke of the program.

"The food is high quality," said Nanci Baron a Somerville resident. "The food selection is amongst the largest of all the local meals programs."

Added a member of the Loaves and Fishes Meals Program.

"The food selection and variety grows all the time," said Allan. "I like the buffet food service of vegetarian and non-vegetarian."

Allan also went on to say that chef Pary has been open to more suggestions and has gradually increased vegan and vegetable options each week.

Originally published by Spare Change News, USA. ©

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