Upham's Corner Online

Food on the Common - Pilgrim Church Volunteers Distribute Food to the Hungry

Posted: November 27, 2010, Nancy Conrad

Food on the Boston Common - Pilgrim Church Feeds the Hungry
It was about two years ago that the Pilgrim Church began its weekly pilgrimage to the Boston Common -- Saturday morning -- hot and nourishing food for the people gathered.

This is a volunteer-based effort.  Yes, the Pilgrim Church is the sponsoring agency - providing food, a kitchen for cooking, a van and a caring clergy - Pastor John Odoms.  The real success of the effort lies with the people dedicated to rising early to make sure food can be served downtown by 9am.

One volunteer had been active serving at the Common with the Kingston House but they were canceling their program.  Another had been active with the Boston Rescue Mission but their schedule was in flux.  It was the right set of circumstances for a new concerted effort to gel at the Pilgrim Church.  
Food on the Boston Common - Pilgrim Church Feeds the HungryWell established now, the Pilgrim Church van acts like a lighthouse to the early morning residents of the Boston Common.  But moments before its arrival, there are no assembled crowds close to the fountain at Tremont and Park Street - only scattered dots of people.  There are, however, lookouts posted atop the park benches. 

The moment someone spies the van, the people begin their migration.
Some of the Commoners come over to the van to help.  Many know exactly where the tables will be and start forming a line.  By the time the food is ready, the line of the hungry stretches almost all the way around to the back of the fountain.

Pilgrim volunteers serve a delicious array of food that appears to be deeply appreciated by the people who hungrily gobble it down.
  • American chop suey or
  • some form of pasta (ravioli is a favorite),
  • rice and beans,
  • a hearty soup,
  • muffins and for later on,
  • a chicken salad or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 
  • Some coffee and juice and you're all set. 
By 9:30 am the food is gone.

Pilgrim Church provides other forms of nourishment as well.  They bring donated bags of clothing, and on this Saturday people were almost frantic. 

"Do you have any gloves?          Do you have any scarves?       How about a coat?"Food on the Boston Common - Pilgrim Church Feeds the Hungry

For the many people whose lives do not run by a schedule, the Pilgrim Church van is a way to set the time of day or the day of the week.  Inherent in the event is the need to line up and move slowly towards the serving area, and this automatically generates conversation and close interaction.  You're part of a group with a goal.  It fulfills an important social need.

Pastor John Odoms, with not a single Saturday missed in two years, has come to know the people well.  Every week he puts out an open book close to the end of the serving area, where the tummies are warming and the taste of food is good.  It is a beautiful and inviting book. 

"Write down your prayer requests," he says, "and they will be spoken in church tomorrow."  On Sunday morning he asks his parishioners to remember the Commoner prayers throughout the week. 

"It is important to maintain the continuity and to not forget."
Food on the Boston Common - Pilgrim Church Feeds the HungryWe asked him: "Besides being the head clergy of the church, what is your contribution to "Food on the Common"? 

Over the last two years, he said, the level of cooperation among the volunteering organizations has increased substantially.  And why is that important?  Because practical matters like weather, holiday scheduling or a missing serving ladle cannot be allowed to stop the show. 

  • St. Paul's Episcopal Church has granted Pilgrim use of their covered entryway (it's right across the street) if the weather is bad.  

  • If Christmas is on a Saturday, will that affect the volunteering?  The homeless and the hungry need to receive food no matter what.  

  • And that missing soup ladle?  Easy!  Boston Rescue Mission has their homeless line a few dozen feet to the left of the Pilgrim line.  Maybe they can help.
A word about the people in line at the Common:

Yes, some are homeless.  Some have spent the night at shelters and are looking forward to a bowl of warm food especially in the cold weather. 

Some people are not homeless but are hungry.  There are families close to downtown Boston who try, as best they can, to provide for their large extended family.  The reality is this: They do not have enough food to go around.  Food on the Common provides the additional sustenance these people need.

Seasonal clothing is much appreciated.  In the cold time of year gloves, scarves and warm coats are in high demand. 

DO NOT leave bags of clothing unattended at the church.  Please call the church - 617-282-0456, leave a message and someone will get back to you shortly.  Making arrangements to drop off the closing is the right way to make sure your donation makes a difference.

The Pilgrim van can hold nine passengers, tables, food and supplies.  Pastor Odoms and the rest of the regular crew would love to have new volunteers.  Some weeks they're short, and some weeks not everyone can fit.  Call in advance.  Yes, you will have to get up early but it's well worth it.
Food on the Boston Common - Pilgrim Church Feeds the HungryOne of today's volunteers was Michael Pierre.  He grew up a Bostonian in Mattapan and has since moved to Maryland - has a family there.  Thanksgiving time draws Michael back to Boston with memories of his childhood and growing up and lots of family still here.  We asked him:  "On such a short stay in Boston what could possibly draw you to spend time feeding people at the Boston Common?"  His answer says miles about him.

"I believe in giving back.  I tell my family, I tell my friends on Facebook.  If you have the time, please try to help out."  

"You know, there's something special about volunteering and serving food on the Boston Common.  You can tell people appreciate what you're doing.  They're getting food for their bodies.  But I'm also getting fed.  I'm getting food for my soul."

Pilgrim Church  617-282-0456
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