Five Mystic Valley congregations partner to feed the hungry in Chelsea

Under bright and beautiful blue skies on May 19, a group of 75 volunteers and clergy members representing five Mystic Valley Deanery Episcopal churches gathered at Grace Church in Medford for a barbecue and joyful celebration of three years of shared ministries at St. Luke’s/San Lucas Mystic Valley BBQ Volunteers keep the grill going during the May 19 celebration of partnership with St. Luke's/San Lucas Church in Chelsea Church in Chelsea.

What began in 2009 as a soup kitchen partnership with four parishes has grown to include five deanery parishes in Chelsea, Medford, Melrose, Lynnfield and Winchester.  Volunteers from these five churches rotate the privilege of cooking and serving a hot breakfast and lunch every Saturday to anyone who enters the parish hall of St. Luke’s/San Lucas.  Even on holiday weekends, the kitchen normally offers something special for its guests rather than close down. On average, the kitchen serves between 100 and 200 meals each Saturday.

In addition to the soup kitchen, St. Luke’s hosts a busy food pantry. Each month about 250 families make appointments to pick up a quantity of non-perishables, rescued food and fresh produce. Most of this food is from the Greater Boston Food Bank with lesser amounts from Mass Appeal International of Malden, private donations and local food drives. A volunteer from St. Luke’s transports the groceries from the Greater Boston Food Bank to the church each week. Volunteers from Epiphany Parish in Winchester perform the physically demanding task of unloading the truck and bagging the food.

“These accomplishments together with our shared vision are sources of great hope in the viability and vitality of our church,” the Rev. Edgar Gutiérrez-Duarte, Vicar of St. Luke’s/San Lucas, said. “By reaching out beyond the walls of our parishes we are shaping the new church--a church whose strength is in its commitment to form community and to serve wherever we are called, much like the first Christians.”

Funding and exploring new sources of food to meet the growing need are top concerns.  Chelsea is one of the cities in Massachusetts most affected by hunger and poverty. Food for Free, a Cambridge-based non-profit organization that services the local emergency food system through food rescue, farming and transportation, has begun regular deliveries of produce and other perishables to St. Luke’s.  Food for Free’s contribution helps to eliminate waste and streamline distribution while providing additional much-needed emergency food relief to people living in Chelsea.

Young children attending the Bethlehem School at St. Paul’s Church in Lynnfield are for the second year growing fresh organic vegetables for clients of the kitchen and pantry. Members of the church built raised vegetable beds on the parish grounds.  These beds have the capacity to yield many hundreds of pounds of food each season.  Under the supervision of their teachers, students help plant, weed and harvest the garden throughout the year while learning how food grows.  Volunteers from the partnered parishes maintain the beds, plan the schedule and transport the fresh food to Chelsea. The superior quality and nutritive value of fresh, organic produce provides more healthful and flavorful meal options for the kitchen and the clients of the pantry.

Volunteers from St. Paul’s Church in Lynnfield find themselves enriched by these feeding ministries. “I find this work to be very life giving,” Jim Rosato of St. Paul’s Church said. “Even a small effort when provided by many people makes a big impact on those experiencing a difficult time of need.” 

“I have really enjoyed the fellowship and opportunity to learn from and serve with the wonderful people in our deanery,” added Jen Vath, another St. Paul’s volunteer.  “I am deeply grateful for this experience.”  

Looking forward, one hope is for future expansion of the soup kitchen and related services to the community.  Parishioners from St. Paul’s and St. Luke’s will be traveling to El Salvador this fall to explore a mission partnership with Foundation Cristosal. Also, youth from Medford and Chelsea are working towards a joint concert “Jammin’ with Jesus” this summer.

For more information or to become involved with the St. Luke’s/San Lucas Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry, contact the Rev. Edgar Gutiérrez-Duarte, Vicar of St. Luke’s/San Lucas Church at 617-884-4278.