How do your Tuesdays look? Got a little time in the afternoon? The City Meal Site (CMS) operating at All Saints’ Memorial Church in Providence has an invitation for you.
The volunteers who run the program are looking for help in continuing a tradition of feeding neighbors in need that began in the kitchen of a low-income apartment in the early 1980s.
“Anyone who spent a Tuesday afternoon — or any part thereof — helping us make and distribute our meals would find a devoted core group,” says Jack Nolan, a member of both the parish and the CMS board. “It is gratifying work and there is a cheerful fellowship, something of a family feeling, among the half-dozen long-time volunteers.”
CMS once offered sit-down meal service, but during the pandemic switched to ‘grab-and-go’ meals consisting of a sandwich of deli-quality meat and cheese, chips, a dessert and bottled water. “No bologna,” Nolan says.
The operation serves 144 meals each Tuesday as part of a regular local rotation of meals available to those who may be unhoused or food insecure in central Providence. CMS also supplied masks and hand-sanitizer to guests during the pandemic, and gives out socks, gloves and underwear in the winter.
Last winter, the group distributed thick wool blankets donated by the Department of Defense to guests who live on the streets. “We handed out dozens of these just before the vicious cold-snap last January and may have actually saved a life or two,” Nolan says.
The Grab-and-Go operation requires a smaller group to prepare meals than the sit-down dinners CMS once served, and the current working group are all members of the organization’s board. Meals are prepared between 1:00 and 4:00 p.m. with doors opening at 5:00 p.m. for an hour of service. The balance of the meals are delivered to Providence Rescue Mission, housing for low-income families, and other locations that count on CMS for their Tuesday dinner.
City Meal Site is not affiliated with any religious group and offers no religious practice—”We just feed poor people,” Nolan says—but the core of the board, including Nolan, the Rev. Dr. Julie Hanavan, priest-in-charge at All Saints’, and Bob Wells, a member of the All Saints’ vestry, are Episcopalians.
According to the oral history Nolan has heard, Episcopalians nurtured the ministry that became CMS almost from the start. In the early 1980s, a few kind women began making sandwiches for their neighbors in the kitchens of their apartments in a housing complex on Charles Street. Their work outgrew their space, however, and they made an agreement with the Cathedral of St. John, which helped them establish a non-profit in 1987 and opened its kitchen to their use.
In these new digs, City Meal Site began serving sit-down meals with guests served restaurant-style rather than standing in line with a tray.
By 2012, City Meal Site had moved from the cathedral to All Saints’ Memorial, where it continues to be a tenant. The group’s fortunes were flagging, but Rev. David Ames, then All Saints’ priest-in-charge, reinvigorated their work, raising money for a new refrigerator and freezer. City Meal Site is currently funded through the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, a federal program administered by the Diocese of Providence, Episcopal Charities, and by small donations from some parish outreach programs.
On occasion, the group sends speakers to the lecterns of local congregations to thank members for their support, and to explain how their donations are spent. To arrange for a speaker from City Meal Site to visit your congregation, contact Bob Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401.354.9412.