Star Light Center gives back with weekly "community meal"
Sitting in Program Director Evan Kreke’s Star Light Center office in Florence, Massachusetts,
Donna, a member, spoke with enthusiasm and animation July 25 while praising the clubhouse’s “a community meal,” its newest outreach initiative. Her brown eyes were alive with excitement as she repeated, “it’s an awesome program.”
On June 28, four Star Light Center members and staff arrived at First Churches of Northampton, Massachusetts, on Main Street armed with approximately 50 peanut butter and jelly, and ham and cheese with lettuce sandwiches, and zucchini bread wrapped in environmentally-conscience packaging, plus water in unopened plastic bottles.
For roughly an hour, they fed the underserved population ranging in age from young adults to the elderly in a takeout format.
They’ve since returned every Friday, with different combinations of food and member volunteers. They will continue to do so through October.
The idea for the program came about after Evan attended his monthly housing market meeting at Northampton City Hall in May. Local representatives, including developers, housing advocates, and nonprofit folks attended and discussed how to best support the homeless population. In conversation, it had been mentioned that the most-prevalent
Northampton shelter was only open November through the end of April, and no longer providing meals. Other community organizations had begun supplementing food Monday through Thursday. But, there was a void on Fridays. One of the meeting attendees asked Evan if Star Light Center wanted to help.
Star Light Center is one of VIABILITY’s six clubhouses located throughout the state. The mission of the program is to support individuals living with the effects of mental illness. Clubhouse staff and peers work together in pursuits to find and attain employment, permanent housing, education, and feel comfortable in social situations. Clubhouses are accredited by Clubhouse International and CARF International. Formerly known as the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities, CARF provides recognition and recommendations for best practices in the health and human service industry.
Evan took the information back to the clubhouse and asked members to discuss the idea. Yet, he already had an inkling as to how the conversation might go. After all, members had previously talked about outreach efforts and a desire to be more involved, especially since Florence is removed from downtown Northampton and members frequently feel disconnected from its hustle and bustle.
If Star Light Center was to take on this venture, the clubhouse would be responsible for creating a menu, shopping, preparing, packaging, delivering, and serving food to the community. Because Star Light Center already makes daily meals for its participants, plus an annual Thanksgiving dinner, Evan knew the group could handle the challenge.
“Members were 100% on board,” Evan said. There are approximately 130 active participants, of which nearly 30 attend the clubhouse daily. “They were very excited to help.”
“We’ve wanted to do it for so long,” she said. “A lot of people really want to help out, but it’s hard for them. It’s easier to talk about helping than doing it. But to me, especially, it’s a very important program.”
Donna said she had previously faced issues like the people receiving the Friday meals and felt honored to be able to give back. Yet, it wasn’t an immediate opportunity. Donna had to wait two weeks for a spot to open. Once she arrived at the church and stood in front of the black, wrought-iron railing under a tree, she knew she was in the right place.
“The people kept saying they were so happy we were there, and we keep coming back,” Donna said. “There was never a program like that before.”