Tilynn Wakefield, of Hanover, was cooking dinner with five or six other moms at St. Helen’s church in Norwell, when she heard a little girl in the other room banging on the church’s piano. I asked if she wanted to learn a song, so I taught her ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’” she said. “She kept going and going and asking, ‘Is this right?’ Once she got it, she ran around the room.” Wakefield, a parishioner of St. Mary’s church in Hanover, over the past few months has been volunteering with a supper club that brings together volunteers from three local churches with families who are staying at a local homeless shelter, which is not specifically identified to protect the privacy of the people living there.
Norwell resident Noël Ashekin, a parishioner of United Church of Christ in Norwell, came up with the idea to start a monthly supper club with the local shelter after the church ran a capital campaign in order to increase their community outreach. “I thought we could help beyond feeding them or providing clothes and furniture. I know families in poverty often face depression or isolation, so we thought it would be a good thing to do to cook and then sit and eat with them,” Ashekin said.
United Church of Christ funds the program, at $500 a month, and has invited volunteers from St. Mary’s in Hanover as well as St. Helen’s in Norwell, where about four to six volunteers cook and eat the food with anywhere from eight to 12 shelter families, Ashekin said. The church volunteers partner with Friends of the Homeless, the organization that runs shelters on the South Shore, to invite families.
Assistant Program Director for Friends of the Homeless, Sharyn Burden, said families living in shelters have access to private kitchens and are able to cook their own food, but the program offers families the opportunity to meet and spend time with church volunteers and foster relationships throughout the community. “This program has been quite successful in bringing families together in the community, with the hopes of relationships developing that will make a difference in people’s lives,” Burden said. “It has been well received by the guests at the shelter with more than half of our families involved on the last Sunday of each month.”
Wakefield wanted to get involved with the program because she knew a family who has been living at the shelter. She said it has been wonderful for her and her family to get to know the families from the shelter. “Some of them are coming from bad situations, but the kids wanted to play football with my son. They couldn’t wait to hang out with him,” she said. “My family sees how they live and what some of them have undergone.”
Burden said; “Building relationships in the community is valuable, and has included more Norwell groups, including a local Girl Scout troop that donated food for the most recent meal, and Norwell Farms, which has expressed interest in donating food to the program as well. Cooking together with the families breaks down the boundaries between volunteers and recipients,” Ashekin said. “It’s a great catalyst for community building and learning about different cultures. Some of the families are from Haiti. As the families cook together, they share stories about their lives, and learn about each other. Some of the families staying at the shelter have taught the volunteers about different styles of cooking… Food can be a great equalizer. As we’re sharing food, the line between giving and receiving is blurred. We’re just sitting with families and friends and eating together,” She added “Something magical happens while cooking—conversations start.”
To volunteer with the program, contact Noel Ashekin at firstname.lastname@example.org.