By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – The Northborough Community Meal Program is marking its 20th year of providing a free, hot meal and fellowship once a week to people in the community and surrounding areas. The success of the program is due to the volunteer efforts of seven places of worship, several organizations and a business.
The need for a program like this was the realization of one man who encountered a homeless man one day in 1996. From his concern and that of his minister, the idea of a meal program was discussed at the Interfaith Clergy Association and the idea became a reality.
The free meal is held at Trinity Church at 23 Main St. in Northborough every Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. The seven places of worship involved in the community meal program include Church of the Nativity, Rice Memorial Baptist Church, St. Rose of Lima, St. Bernadette, Trinity Church, First Parish Church Unitarian-Universalist, and Congregation B’nai Shalom. In addition, several civic organizations including the Northboro Junior Woman’s Club, Northborough Rotary Club, Northborough Lions Club and the Northborough Knights of Columbus and a business, Altizo Advisors of Marlborough, support the program.
Program Chair Jane O’Toole, who has been with the program since the beginning, said, “The mission of the program is to provide a free, hot meal in a welcoming environment, not
only for the needy or homeless, but to anyone.”
An average of 55 people are served in a potluck fashion and the menus provide a variety of entrees each week.
O’Toole noted that there are senior citizens that may otherwise be alone who look forward to a hot meal with others once a week. People from other communities are also welcome to attend. She noted that people from Worcester, Marlborough and Framingham have attended in the past.
“It’s open to anyone from anywhere,” said O’Toole. “There was once a truck driver who was passing through town and saw the sign and stopped in. He said he would not have had a hot dinner that night otherwise.”
Members of the churches and civic groups rotate their schedule and typically coordinate their own volunteers to provide the meal three to four times a year. Each week the church or organization that is responsible for that meal chooses the menu and organizes it from start to finish.
The meal is free, but donations are accepted. Funds that are collected are used to help defray the costs of basic supplies such as paper plates and utensils, paper towels, coffee and tea. The funds are not used for the food as that is provided directly from the group volunteering and organizing the meal for that week.
O’Toole said that if the donations are more than they need for the basic necessities, the money is donated to the Northborough Food Pantry or to the Interfaith Clergy Association, which provides vouchers from local vendors for gasoline, groceries, medication or heating oil. Recipients of these vouchers are Northborough residents or individuals related to one of the participating congregations.
Girl Scouts troops, high school students, and church youth groups have all been involved over the years with assisting with meal service.
O’Toole recalled that the minister at the time of Trinity Church said that he hoped that the program would still be around in 30 years.
“He would be happy to know that we are at our 20 year mark,” she said.