Describe your idea.
HMFA provides free, secular, community meals to anyone in need on the second Friday of every month at a donated space in Davis Square. Unlike any other community meal program, HMFA serves fresh, hot meals that incorporate locally farmed meat, eggs and dairy, whole grains, and local and organic produce whenever possible. All meals also provide a creative vegetarian option and are cooked by professional gourmet chef Yvette Taylor, serving up to 100 guests with the support of about 25 volunteers. Volunteers help prep and set the tables “restaurant style” and act as servers offering guests beverages, dinner, and dessert right to their table. All volunteers are encouraged to sit, eat, and socialize with the guests once they have finished serving and often guests offer to help clean up at the end of the meal; this creates an environment of inclusion that breaks down the giver-receiver dichotomy so that guests and volunteers are one and the same, and are peers.
Using local ingredients whenever possible is a core principle of the program, as well as educating volunteers and guests about the importance of supporting local agriculture. Our farmers and local vendors are highlighted in our outreach materials, and each meal is announced before it is served, including where the ingredients come from. Most of our farmers have visited the program and introduced themselves to the guests!
How will you use your grant?
If granted, the HMFA program will use Feast Mass funds almost exclusively on food while the organization is in the process of applying for non-profit status (which will allow it to apply for larger grants). HMFA is entirely volunteer-run and administered and has little overhead cost. The facility, utilities, and most administrative costs are graciously donated by the Somerville Community Baptist Church in Davis Square and up to 25 volunteers support the program each month. This allows for time and resources to go into sourcing and procuring high-quality, fresh, organic, and local ingredients in order to create gourmet meals while also supporting local farms.
Why and to whom is your project important?
The meals are open to individuals and families from all communities and socioeconomic backgrounds. The program purposefully does not collect demographic data in effort to avoid the stigmatization that can be associated with soup kitchens.
The provision of a safe, welcoming, non-judgmental and non-threatening environment is paramount when considering approaches to addressing food instability and insecurity. The stigma associated with “free handouts” is a barrier for individuals who truly need access to these resources. Breaking down the barriers between those who “have” and those who “have not” is a progressive concept yet to be embraced fully in the field. If we agree that all people need and deserve to eat, and that access to safe, affordable, and health-promoting food options is a human right, then our focus should shift towards creating normalizing and non-stigmatizing food programs that promote the values of health, shared responsibility, equality, acceptance, community connectedness, and empowerment.
What is the expected status of your project by the time of the next Feast?
A Feast Mass grant of $800–1,000 would help the sustainability of the organization while we apply for our own 501c3 non-profit status and fund food for the next 3–4 monthly meals.