In the basement of an historic Wellesley church that can trace its history back to Puritan times, a modern and spacious industrial kitchen hums with activity. Volunteers, masked up and socially distant, work together under the direction of Gary Arthur, a Wellesley Village Church member with 17 years’ experience managing food services at large industrial kitchens. Like a well-oiled machine, group members work at their stations to prepare and package hundreds of healthy and delicious meals that will be distributed to food insecure recipients in locations from Wellesley to the Greater Boston area.
The feeding program is called “Village Table” at Wellesley Village Church, and it was started in the church’s fully licensed commercial kitchen in response to the rise in food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic. “People are hungry,” Arthur says, “and they’re getting in food lines. Food insecurity is right at the top of the list of problems for so many. But we can do something about it.”
It’s been a pretty big something. Already over 1,000 meals per month are going out the door. Included in that number are ongoing donations to the Community Fridges program in Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, and Roslindale; Family Promise Metrowest; Food for Free in Cambridge; A Place to Turn in Natick; and food pantries both here in Wellesley and beyond.
In addition, over Thanksgiving a group sponsored and delivered hot meals, clothing, and personal items to over 300 people on “Methadone Mile” in Boston, a one-mile stretch of Massachusetts Avenue. There, volunteers served those struggling with problems that may include nutritional deficit and/or hunger; addiction; being underhoused; loss of community of origin; and mental illness.
On a mission
Essential to the mission of Village Table is maintaining the dignity of every individual. “We don’t want anyone to feel underprivileged or feel like they have to self-identify as needy. We really try to minimize shame,” Arthur says. It’s all about looking at food need through a lens of community. If one person benefits from food security, that doesn’t mean that person is unaffected by the food insecurity of others. “Need is something that affects the entire community,” he says.
To that end, Village Table food is anything but hastily slapped-together rations. Meals are nutritious and delicious, prepped and packaged with love by volunteers committed to the goal of helping others. Teriyaki chicken skewers on udon noodle salad is one example of the kind of restaurant-quality meals Village Table provides. Roasted lemon chicken, with simmered farro and vegetables is another. Meals are put together in two separate 3-hour cooking sessions, then packaged for delivery in a third session. Distribution is handled by a combination of Wellesley volunteers and those from the Greater Boston community who load up their vehicles and shepherd the meals out to where they’re needed. We’re talking over a thousand meals per month, and that’s just since the inception of the program in fall 2020.
“We officially got going in September for the pilot.” Arthur explains. “We got funding together and we started doing it. October was our first operation. We planned for 600 meals.” But in a loaves-and-fishes scenario, additional donations meant the group was able to stretch their resources and reach that 1k meals milestone, all without sacrificing portion size or quality.
Coincidence? I think not
Providence seemingly went to work to reach this point. Three years ago, Arthur and his wife Carmen Suen moved into Wellesley along with their two children, who they enrolled in their neighborhood public elementary school. The family found their way to Village Church, felt comfortable there, and joined the congregation.
Arthur just so happened to have a lifetime of experience in industrial food service. “I’ve been managing food services at large industrial kitchens for 17 years. U Chicago. Notre Dame.” Perhaps his largest-scale gig was at Texas A&M University, where he was part of the team that fulfilled delivery of 30,000 meals a day at 41 on-campus locations. Then an opportunity at MIT brought the family to the Boston area, which in turn led to Arthur self-starting a new venture. Once COVID hit, that project was put temporarily on hold. “I realized God may be saying that wasn’t my path right now,” he says.
Once that epiphany hit, things started coming together with Village Table. Fast.
Head Pastor Rev. Dr. Sarah Butter was all in with the idea of using the church’s commercial kitchen to help serve the greater good. “We live in a hungry world. People are hungry physically and spiritually, and hungry for care and community. Village Table emerged at just the right time, with just the right leadership, to work at the intersection of these hungers. Volunteers and recipients alike are fed by the process of shopping, cooking, packaging, and delivering meals to any in need of a bit, or bite, of care. It’s a marvelous embodiment of love alive in community, in real time, in real ways. I’m grateful for Gary’s vision and the contagious energy that has given birth to this ministry that feeds so many people in so many ways.”
Indeed, there is much gratitude to be parceled out. Arthur credits the Foundation for MetroWest for the non-profit’s recent $5,000 grant to support the work of Village Table. He also thanks New England Country Mart, a wholesaler as well as a direct-to-consumer grocery delivery platform that provides fresh premium produce to restaurants, institutions, and grocers. “Country Mart provides us with a lot of food,” Arthur says.
How to volunteer
There’s no question that as Village Table increases its reach, more volunteers will be needed for help with shopping, food sourcing, gardening, cooking, cleaning, distribution, marketing, grant-writing, and more. But right now, due to COVID concerns, the volunteering is limited to a small group of church members. The hope is that in the near future, anyone with the time and the heart to serve will be invited to participate.
“There’s enough love in this town to make a difference for hungry people. That’s the part I love,” Arthur says.
Keep Village Table close to your heart right now
It would be an omission of note to leave out a recent tragic turn of events that has affected Gary Arthur and his family. Our hearts go out to Gary as he mourns the sudden death of his 44-year-old son Michael David, who was shot and killed last week during a robbery at the store where he was working in Portland, Ore.
While this story was written prior to this tragedy, Gary’s pastor, Rev. Sarah Butter, on behalf of Wellesley Village Church, invites donations to the Village Table in memory of Michael David Arthur.