OPERATION: Food is Love
When the members of First Church in Sterling (MA), watched their community change because of jobs being furloughed or lost, and school food programs ceasing, they knew they had to do something.
“The strain and fear of the unknown had become overwhelming for many, and physical isolation was growing into emotional isolation,” said church member Joyce Mara. “We believed that it was paramount to provide physical, as well as emotional sustenance during this time.”
Taking inspiration from an already established monthly community luncheon program at First Church, OPERATION: Food is Love was created to meet the expanded need and took on a weekly, outdoor, drive-through, pickup program where meals and groceries are free, all are welcome, no questions asked.
“Food is Love is so much more than the food,” explained Jennifer Scalise-Mullet, a church member and coordinator of the project. “The food is simply the mechanism for us to show our community that we care about them – to show our volunteers that yes, during these hard times – and especially during these hard times – you can help.”
When word spread of the program, food donations came in from everywhere including peoples’ gardens, local farms and orchards, area businesses, households, the local food pantry, and even the USDA. Over 30 volunteers work on the committee, weekly distribution teams, and as food coordinators. Many more, of all ages, have written words of encouragement and created artwork to be included with the meals, made check-in calls with folks in the community, and supported other activities as needed.
”I can’t tell you how many times a volunteer has thanked US for the opportunity to contribute positively to the community – and how much doing SOMETHING has meant to them,” said Scalise-Mullet. “That is another way this project has served our community. Together, we are serving more than the recipients.”
The monetary support and donations have been inspirational, allowing over 9,300 meals and bags of groceries to be served to individuals, families, caregivers, first responders, and senior citizens. For many, it’s a first time ever experience.
The comments from the recipients are full of gratitude. The team has gotten to know a family of seven who often donates goods to the program each week when they come to pick up a meal and meal kits for their large family.
“There is a ‘lovely gentleman’ who smiles so wide when he sees the volunteers because, according to him, it ‘makes his whole day’ as he is elderly and alone at home,” said Scalise-Mullet. Another recipient reportedly slips out of his house briefly to grab meals for himself and his wife who can only be home alone a short time as she suffers with dementia. There are also single mothers who have never had to ask for help before – and they are scared, crying, and likely embarrassed. “So we tell them ‘We are here for you – we’ve got you – no questions asked – take the meals and feed your family – and we will see you next week, same time, same place,’” said Scalise-Mullet.
“Our recipients have come to recognize us, even under our masks – and not just because we have the beautiful pins with our faces on them – but because we are there every week, we “smile with our eyes” – and we serve our community, no questions asked,” she said.
“It really is an amazing program,” said The Rev. N. Shantia Wright-Gray, retired UCC clergy and a member of the church. “Everyone has been blown away by how it has blossomed.”
Contact Jennifer Scalise-Mullet at the church office at (978) 422-6657 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. See them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FirstChurchSterling/.
Sign up to volunteer, donate money or non-perishable food items: https://signup.com/client/invitation2/secure/3263074/false?fbclid=IwAR0MrVuAfk_-QntAADk6zdhnXRjmEyR1BujeZ3G8Ef_onZNBfD9urzw3Tic#/invitation