Friday Night Supper Program can rightfully be called one of Back Bay’s most-consistent unsung heroes, faithfully serving hot, nutritious meals once a week since 1984 to Boston’s homeless and extremely low-income residents from the Arlington Street Church, and after pivoting to providing hot to-go meals during the pandemic, it resumed offering seated, family-style dinners at the church again Friday, June 25.
“This is a huge, exciting step for the organization to be able to open our doors again [for sit-down meals],” said Jenny Lecoq, development director, of the upcoming event, which will be their first in-person Friday gathering since March of last year. “Our volunteers and staff work so hard to make sure our guests are served meals in a safe, dignified environment.”
One of the city’s longest-running dinner programs for the homeless, Friday Night Supper Program is a nonprofit secular corporation made possible through an ongoing collaboration between Arlington Street Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, and Dignity Boston, a community of LGBTQI Catholics. Arlington Street Church and Dignity Boston donate funding and volunteers for the program, while the church additionally provides free space and use of utilities for it.
Before the pandemic struck, Friday Night Supper Program’s small staff (currently comprising three members who work a total of 35 hours between them) and dedicated volunteers served a three-course meal, consisting of soup, entrée with sides, and dessert, to typically between 120 and 150 homeless and extremely low-income individuals each week. They never missed a single Friday, despite snowstorms, power outages, and major holidays.
The program also ran uninterrupted even after it was forced to adapt in mid-March of last year in response to the pandemic by offering guests hot meals to-go from the church foyer every Friday evening, while sit-down suppers were temporarily put on hold.
And when the program resumes offering in-person meals again on June 25, hot to-go meals will continue to be offered, too, for those who don’t feel confortable eating there, said Lecoq, or in the event that the room reaches capacity, since occupancy will be limited due to the pandemic.
Every other week, the program also operates a Clothing Closet that offers guests seasonally appropriate attire, including coats and winter boots, as well as toiletries, warm blankets, and emergency supplies.
With an annual operating budget of $95,000, Friday Night Supper Program recently got a major boost, thanks to a $100,000 grant it will receive over 10 years from the Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, which was founded by Joyce and Bill Cummings in 1986 and supports eastern Massachusetts nonprofits. Otherwise, the program depends on regular individual donations, as well as on grants and corporate funding, and some federal funding it receives, since it operates as a soup kitchen. The program also receives major support from Project Bread/Walk for Hunger and has access to the Greater Boston Food Bank.
“We’re a small, shoestring, bootstrap organization that does a lot because of the dedication of our volunteers,” said Lecoq. “The 10-year Cummings Foundation Grant provides us so much stability, especially after a year where everything changed because of COVID-19. Having something like this that we can count on is huge for the organization.”
Likewise, Regina Corrao, co-chair of the Friday Night Supper Program board, said in a press release: “We think of Friday Night Supper Program as a ‘lean but mighty’ organization operating on a very small budget with limited staff but delivering a very important and impactful service that our guests depend on. A long-term grant of this size from the Cummings Foundation is huge for us, and will certainly help us build a stronger organization to serve our guests long into the future.”
Prior to the pandemic, Friday Night Supper Program held a gala fundraising event, with an auction and raffle, each spring in the space at the church where its communal meals typically take place. Historically, it has raised around one-third of the program’s $95,000 annual budget, said Lecoq.
The fundraiser was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, but retuned on May 15 of this year as a virtual event that raised $ 5,000 for the program. While this sum was a far cry from years past, it was still deemed a successful outing, said Lecoq.
Otherwise, added Lecoq added: “The generosity of longtime donors and the community in general has kept us going. We did get some stimulus money, too, which was very significant for a little organization like ours.”
Friday Night Supper Program, meanwhile, is now seeking volunteers for dinner services on a one-time or continuing basis, said Lecoq, and is also extending an open invitation to anyone in need of a warm, nutritious meal in a safe, dignified environment to join them any Friday night beginning June 25 at Arlington Street Church. The events kick off at 5 p.m.
Readers can also support the program, including the Clothing Closet, through a variety of sponsorship opportunities.
Visit www.fridaynightsupper.org to learn more.