Take and Eat Brings Meals to Williamstown Elderly

Abby Rampone ’17 (L) and Catherine H.M. Tan ’18 (R) cooking on a Saturday night
Photo by Alexis Jones ’19

Since September of 2015, Take and Eat has been an effort from the Williams College Chaplain’s Office and Williams College InterFaith with one simple goal: to provide meals to those in need. Take and Eat, Inc. is a faith-based nonprofit in North Adams, MA dedicated to providing meals for the elderly on weekends and three-day holidays. Founded in 2003 by Rev. Francis and Kathleen Ryan, Take and Eat has provided thousands of meals for Williamstown residents. The organization was founded to supplement Meals on Wheels Berkshire County, which only serves meals on weekdays.

In Williamstown, the First Congregational Church, St. John’s Episcopal Church, and Saints Patrick and Raphael Parish have been cooking for Take and Eat on a different weekend each month. After discovering only three weekends of the month were covered by the three churches,  Kathy Hrach ’16 and Aaron Hamblin ’16 of InterFaith coordinated with the Chaplain’s Office to “plug the hole” left over so that meals could be provided all month long.

A typical meeting for Take and Eat at Williams is a gathering of friends. On the first weekend of the month during the school year, both students and college chaplains gather in the First Congregational Church kitchen that Saturday night. Roughly ten volunteers gather to cook, talk and taste test along the way. Occasionally student other groups have joined InterFaith’s cooking efforts, including sports teams and the Jewish Religious Center board. The program thus serves a second function as a social space for those looking for an alternative to the party scene.

The students and chaplains cook delicious meals with a high protein and fat content, along with a roll and some fruit. “[Catholic Chaplain] Father Gary [Castor] is our best food wrangler,” said Rick Spalding, Chaplain to the College. “He takes the lead on meal planning and shopping.” Salisbury Steak is a favorite. In the spirit of collaboration, Take and Eat often uses cookies baked by the Lehman Council and a piece of fruit to add to the well-rounded meal. The meals are then delivered to Williamstown residents around midday on Sunday. Roughly 45 meals are made in an evening, and everyone who comes to help is a valuable member of the team.

Students are also encouraged to take part in delivery, which Spalding says provides an opportunity to “go out into the community and actually meet the people who are receiving the meals. That’s very gratifying in a very different way [from cooking on Saturdays]”. It might come as a surprise that there are as many as fifty adults living close to campus in need of food support. “Delivering food can remind students that Williamstown is more economically and socially diverse than they realize,” said Spalding.

While the mission of Take and Eat is not to promote “sustainability” per se, programs such as these are vital in terms of knitting communities together and making the Berkshires a better place to live. Food insecurity is a major issue in the Purple Valley: according to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, of the 223,000 people in Western MA facing food insecurity, 15% live in Berkshire County. Along with focusing on big picture efforts such as reducing energy use on campus, it is important to make sure that our communities can provided for its residents on a day-to-day basis in sustainable ways.

Fr. Gary Caster, prepares some food for Take and Eat
Photo by Alexis Jones ’19

Despite the success of the program so far, there are still a few wrinkles to be worked out, according to Spalding.  For example, a month might have five weekends, which leaves an extra gap to fill. Additionally, the first weekend of the month can sometimes be tough for Williams students due to school breaks or College events, and there are currently no deliveries during the summer. Going forward, Rick hopes to plan ahead with other Williamstown churches to make sure every weekend is covered and increase the amount of locally sourced foods used for meals. By having fun and making food, Williams College’s Take and Eat program is making the Williamstown community more sustainable with each meal served.

Now that it’s had two school years’ worth of cooking under its belt, Take and Eat is eager for more volunteers. Rick Spalding, Chaplain to the College, touts the group’s inclusive nature: “While this group has a religious affiliation, anyone can come and help!”

You can learn more about the Take and Eat, Inc. at takeandeat.org.

 

 

Sarah Ritzmann ’17 is a sustainable writing intern for the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. Thank you to MaKaila DeSano-Smith ’18 for initial research and documentation.