PROVINCETOWN — Lunch at SKIP starts at 12:30 p.m., but guests start to fill the United Methodist Church’s function hall, mingling and gradually forming a line as early as 11:45. By 12:20 p.m. the line stretches out the door.
The Soup Kitchen in Provincetown opened for its 32nd season on Nov. 6. A winter beacon in the Provincetown community, SKIP provides free hot meals every weekday from November through April.
“It’s going to be over 200 meals,” says SKIP board chair Philip Franchini, glancing at the growing line from the serving station as he writes the menu on a big whiteboard. Given rising food costs, his organization expects to surpass its record of 23,000 meals served last winter. “There are so many people to feed,” Franchini says.
SKIP keeps more than 100 volunteers busy, with about 20 working on any given weekday.
Opening day at SKIP resembles the first day of school, with old friends reuniting after a summer apart.
“This gets me out of that isolation,” says Wellfleet resident Maurice Greenberg, first in line for lunch. “It’s so good to be back in a group of people.”
“I really come back for the community,” says Frankie Risatta, sitting at his table and waiting for the line to get shorter. “It gets very quiet around the wintertime,” he says. “And the food is just as good as a restaurant.”
On the menu: hamburgers, tomato soup, hash browns, and an apple salad. Vegan burgers and gluten-free buns are at the ready. “It’s very downhome,” says executive chef Gina Larkin of her approach to crafting menus. “We make sure to add fresh fruit and veggies to every dish. We know they’re not always easy to whip up at home for our guests.”
A volunteer brings Robert Perry a burger and puts it on the table in front of him. His face lights up. “It’s exciting to see the people you don’t get to see over the summer,” he says, perched on his rollator walker as friends stop by to say hello. “I love it here,” he says.
Perry takes the flex bus from Truro to SKIP every weekday. This winter is his 20th coming for lunch and his third without his mother, who died three years ago. He thinks of her when he’s here, pulling up her photo on his phone.
James Ryan and Robert Cromwell are among the younger guests. They don’t come to SKIP often but decided to meet for a “friend lunch” on opening day. “The apple salad is my favorite,” Ryan says.
“Rodney!” calls out Melissa Joan, balancing a full tray of food as she heads toward the table closest to the soft drinks. She’s excited to spot an old friend. From his wheelchair as he squeezes a packet of mayo onto his burger, Rodney Reetz looks up and calls back, “Melissa!” She joins Reetz at his table. The two friends haven’t seen each other in months. “I’ve missed you,” says Joan.
By 1 p.m., sunlight is pouring through the tall midcentury windows of the Methodist Church, filling the packed function hall with warm light.
Back in the kitchen, volunteers are busy preparing tomorrow’s meal while today’s is still being dished out. Half of all the food SKIP prepares over the winter is provided by the Greater Boston Food Bank. The other half, mostly fruit, vegetables, and meat, is paid for by donors’ contributions.
Chef Larkin carries big cans of chickpeas and boxes of cheeses to the prep table before stepping out to greet Reetz. She gives him a big hug.
“Lots of people in this room are overlooked in Provincetown,” says Larkin. She says SKIP provides a sense of community for people who come to lunch here for all kinds of reasons.
“We serve whoever wants to come,” Franchini says.
November through April, Monday through Friday, SKIP serves lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the United Methodist Church, 20 Shank Painter Road in Provincetown.