FARMINGTON – In the community hall of St Joseph’s Parish in Farmington, a group of volunteers and other church coordinators have taken it upon themselves to feed the community. Each Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the church on Middle Street offers a free hot meal to anyone wishing to stop by and ask for one. Overseen by coordinator Stephanie Crow, Director Max Becker and the church’s pastor, Reverend Paul Dumais, the initiative is mostly made possible by the commitment of volunteers from both St. Joseph’s as well as Clearwater Food Pantry and Care and Share Food Closet.
“The support is amazing,” said volunteer Helena Maguire, who coordinates the free meal takeout each Tuesday. “We have a strong group of volunteers here and everyone is just so generous.”
The initiative began as an alternative to the warming center which St. Joseph’s used to offer throughout the winter. With covid restrictions, this community resource had to be omitted.
“So Father Paul, Stephanie, and Max all sat down to try and come up with something that we could still do to help the community. They thought, well we can still serve meals safely,” said Maguire.
Volunteers from Clearwater manage most of the cooking, using a combination of resources that they or other food pantries have donated, community donations, or goods that St. Joseph’s has purchased specifically for the meal program.
“They’ve really supported this whole endeavor. We tell them what we have and they come in and have at it!” said Maguire.
Henderson Baptist Church also cooks a meal once a month to help with the effort. This week’s meal was chicken and rice with green beans, a roll and a dessert. Next week’s will be beans and rice with diced tomatoes.
“We try to keep the menu as fresh as we can,” said Maguire.
This is often assisted by volunteers who come in and bake different additions to go with the hot meals, such as muffins or cookies. Donations of fresh local produce and meat from Clearwater’s Dan Palmer also helps in keeping the meal menu rotating. When the hot meal program began, St. Joseph’s was sending out 30 meals in the two-hour window, but now that word is getting around, they are doing between 80 and 120 meals each week.
To maximize resources, the church will also set aside food that’s been left over from other community events, repurposing a ham bake or a roast chicken for cold sandwiches that can be kept in the freezer in the church’s community building foyer. Outside of the weekly hot meal service times, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the week, anyone needing fresh foods can stop by the church and have access to it.
“What we have, we’ll put out,” said Maguire.
Other local businesses have witnessed the impact that this program has had on the public and have lent a hand when possible. The Narrow Gauge theater recently partnered with Franklin Savings Bank to host a fundraiser, all proceeds going towards the free meal program. Hannaford market also donates what they can to St. Joseph’s, and works with Maguire and Crowe who handle the ordering and purchasing of supplies needed each week.
“The more words gets out, the busier we are. But people want to keep helping us, asking us what they can do. For right now we only serve one hot meal a week, but with all this help and all the positive responses we’ve been getting, that may change down the road,” said Maguire.
Along with assistance from local businesses, St. Joseph’s has also started an endowment for the free meal program and is always accepting donations to keep it running.