Nourishing the Community One Meal at a Time

Community Cooks has grown immensely since its humble beginnings in Somerville 23 years ago, but its grassroots, direct approach to helping the hungry hasn’t changed a bit. What started as a few neighbors cooking hot meals for the Somerville Homeless Coalition has blossomed into a large network of volunteers making food for agencies all over the Boston area.

“Our heart is such a huge core of volunteers,” said Daniele Levine, the executive director at Community Cooks. “It’s built around cooperation and working together.”

Community Cooks logoCommunity Cooks grew a little over time to include about 50-60 volunteers a decade ago. Now, there are close to 600 people (including yours truly) contributing meals that go to organizations that help vulnerable populations, like Somerville-based RESPOND, which works to end domestic violence. Those 600 volunteers–many individuals cooking at home, but also some at businesses that have formed cooking teams–prepare 76 meals a month that feed 2,400 people, according to Levine.

“It’s simple, but kind of unusual,” Levine said of the Community Cooks model. “It’s direct. And easy so you can keep doing it.”

Each cook prepares one part of a family-style meal once a month. The volunteers shop for the groceries and cook at home, delivering the finished dish to the Community Cooks headquarters in Union Square. The meals are then delivered to one of the Community Cooks partner agencies in the area.

“All these groups are working in the community,” Levine said, but they don’t necessarily have the ability or budget to provide meals. “But they are serving people who are vulnerable and need food.”

Community Cooks inside

As Community Cooks grows, the organization plans to start hosting cooking classes at some of its partner agencies to help people on tight budgets with limited access to kitchens. There are also plans for an expanded website with recipes and tips for cooking for large groups as well as hopes to export the Community Cooks model to other places.

Last December, Community Cooks did a presentation at the Rashi School in Dedham, which was hosting exchange students from Israel. The kids were asked to bring snacks and sandwiches that they packed up for Youth on Fire, a drop-in center for homeless and street-involved youth in Harvard Square.

This showed the kids that “you could do this when you go home,” Levine said. “You don’t have to have a lot of money to contribute. You can make a difference, even if you’re a kid.”

At its core, Community Cooks provides food for those in need, but physical nourishment isn’t the only benefit of the meals.

“Food goes beyond satiating hunger,” Levine said. “We’re sending messages that seem simple, but are very powerful. It’s a moving connection that provides comfort and encouragement to access services.”

Images courtesy of Community Cooks.

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