PROVINCETOWN — It is the season of Outer Cape soup kitchens, community kitchens, food banks, and food pantries.
“There’s just always need here,” said Philip Franchini, board chair of the Soup Kitchen in Provincetown (SKIP), which has served hot lunches out of Provincetown’s United Methodist Church each winter weekday since 1992.
But hunger is now affecting a different group of people than it was before, said Andrea Marczely, Barnstable County’s first-ever food access coordinator. Need is rising as “people are having to give up their jobs to stay at home with children, or losing their jobs, or being furloughed,” she said.
Meanwhile, in a season in which masks, distancing, and outdoor dining are the new normal, soup kitchens, where cooking, serving, and gathering all happen in shared air, face new challenges.
Four Outer Cape soup kitchens — two established community fixtures, two new-ish pandemic projects — are grappling with how best to navigate this season of want and worry.
After a four-month break, SKIP will reopen this Monday, Nov. 2. This isn’t SKIP’s first attempt at pandemic operations; last March, when Covid touched down in full force, “we realized we needed to switch our model very quickly,” Franchini said.
Staffers converted SKIP’s usual sit-down lunch into a pickup one where patrons could drive by, open their trunks or back doors, and receive a takeout meal. That will be the case this season as well.
From 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. each day, lunch guests can drive, bicycle, or walk to SKIP’s new entrance: the police-department side of Shank Painter Road’s United Methodist Church. SKIP used to serve between 100 and 150 meals a day. This year, they’re starting ready to serve 130 daily.
But “those numbers could go anywhere,” said Franchini. “We don’t know what to expect. People haven’t gotten their $1,200 stimulus check; people haven’t been getting their extra $600 a week unemployment — we just think everything is going to be worse this year.”
And an extra hurdle for SKIP is the absence of many of its usual in-person community fundraising events.
“Basically, we need money,” said Franchini. “We have a great need for financial help this year. Give online at SkipFood.org, or find our mailing address there to send us a check.”
A new organization has been operating once weekly in Truro since April.
At the end of March, Tufts senior Eli Sobel and their parents, Wendy and David, began searching for ways to get involved in local Covid relief efforts. (Eli uses the plural pronoun.)
“Even though there was the Council on Aging and Truro Central School providing meals, there was still a lot of need in the area,” Eli said, adding, “We really got the sense that people wanted a Truro-centered organization — a community supporting itself.”
Thus was born the Truro Community Kitchen (TCK), which operated first out of the Box Lunch kitchen and has since moved to the Christian Union Church on Shore Road. At its peak, the group was providing 180 meals weekly; that’s leveled out, said Eli, to about 115 now.
Like SKIP and the 246 Community Kitchen in Wellfleet, the TCK does not require identification or income qualification from its patrons.
“Need can look so different for so many different people,” said Eli. “It can be so much more than — or in addition to — financial need. We felt really strongly that we wanted this to be as wide-reaching as possible within our community.”
Meeting that mission, though, requires money.
“We want to establish TCK as a permanent fixture in the Truro community,” said Eli, “and to do that, money is our most urgent need. Anyone can visit TruroCommunityKitchen.com for a donation link or a mailing address for checks.”
TCK also seeks volunteers, especially experienced cooks — “anyone who knows their way around a kitchen,” Eli said — and people with the ServSafe Food Manager certification.
Wellfleet is host to two soup kitchens: 246 Community Kitchen at the Methodist Church and Common Table at the Fox and Crow.
Before the pandemic, 246 provided a community dinner weekly in the winter, with “the purpose to foster fellowship, fun, and feed people,” said Janet Drohan, 246’s director.
Split into teams, 45 volunteers cooked a three-course meal for 100 people every Tuesday evening. It was “marvelous,” said Drohan. And a gathering that drew a diverse and enthusiastic crowd.
“There aren’t many silver linings, with Covid,” said Drohan, “but if we use our imaginations, we can see some good things have happened.”
The group received a donation of some 600 lobsters from a fisherman who is friend of the kitchen and who asked not to be named. Picking the meat from that bounty and freezing it, then preparing lobster rolls for a fundraiser, gave volunteers a chance to adopt new Covid-safe protocols.
And, the lobster rolls brought in close to $10,000, Drohan said. That’s nearly enough to replace the exhaust hood in the Methodist Church’s kitchen, where 246 is based. The town’s fire department told them they would have to replace it if they wanted to continue.
“We’re entertaining doing a takeout quart of soup each week,” Drohan said. “We’ve mastered the takeout practice very well, but the big challenge is going to be how we manage the fellowship that’s needed.”
The 246 Kitchen hopes to begin cooking again by mid-November. Until then, said Drohan, “money is always needed. So are volunteers.” Visit 246Kitchen.org for the group’s mailing address to send checks.
Trudy Vermehren, owner of the Fox and Crow Café, founded the Common Table in mid-March, with a focus on providing breakfasts for local students.
Soon, though, she opened it to everyone, “no questions asked.” Volunteers deliver the meals to patrons by car. Now, Common Table provides between 40 and 60 meals a day, down from a high of 160.
“I guess I’m expecting those numbers to go up a lot, especially as more cases of Covid come on to the Cape,” Vermehren said. “But I just have no idea what to expect.”
Looking to help Common Table as it forges ahead? “Money is what keeps us going,” Vermehren said. Visit TheFoxAndCrowCafe.com for a PayPal donation link, or send checks to Wellfleet Preservation Hall, which is serving as Common Table’s nonprofit fiscal sponsor. They also need more drivers. Email [email protected] for information.