NBA: Past and Present
Not Bread Alone was first called the Soup Company. It was started by the First Congregational Church of Amherst in 1983. Members of the church took turns preparing soup at home and brought it to the kitchen to serve. It started with just bread, and two pots of soup: one was vegetarian soup and the other one was non-vegetarian soup. Later the Church hired a coordinator to take charge of the program. It continued for several years until 1987 when financial problems forced it closed temporarily. A few months later, the Church asked Center for Human Development (CHD) to take over for management. In 1988, the soup kitchen reopened and was named Not Bread Alone.
Not Bread Alone serves free breakfast and lunch on Saturdays and Sundays in the dining room of the First Congregational Church of Amherst. It also serves meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In addition to serving meals, Not Bread Alone provides free groceries such as vegetables, fruits, baked goods, and canned food weekly. During growing season, we offer farm fresh organic and local vegetables. Homemade desserts are regularly made available to our guests. Overall speaking, Not Bread Alone emphasizes fresh and nutritious foods to populations who normally rely on processed or canned goods. With the abundant farm produce our guests receive in the summer and fall, it is important for them to learn how different fresh vegetables such as kale, collard greens, mustard greens, or napa can be prepared. Through the various dishes served at lunch, our guests learn and are encouraged to use fresh produce.
Our guests are mostly senior citizens, single-parent families, and single men and women. Many of them either live in subsidized housing, or are homeless and live in shelters. The racial composition seems to reflect that of the town of Amherst and the area: about one third is people of color. The nationalities include US citizens, Chinese, Koreans, Pakistanis, Polish, Mexicans etc. The average age is about 60 or up. The bleak job market has brought us some young college graduates this year. We are seeing some new families who have just recently immigrated to this country. In general, the breakdown by gender for male and female is 60/40.
Not Bread Alone does not set any eligibility requirement for guests. Anyone in need of a hot meal or free groceries is welcome to use the program. However, we do not see any abuse of our service. Our guests are mostly people with low income, and/or receive disability social security.
Our volunteers are as diverse at our guests. They are from many racial and cultural backgrounds. By word of mouth, and announcements we send to local churches and synagogues, we work with volunteers of all ages and abilities. Not Bread Alone relies greatly on volunteers to provide its service. Volunteers pick up donated produce and baked goods weekly from local stores such as Whole Foods Market, Atkins Farm, Henion Bakery, and Stop and Shop. We also have volunteers laundering tablecloths and dish towels. A gentleman comes to set the table whenever Not Bread Alone is open. We work with nearly 1,000 volunteers cooking in the kitchen to prepare breakfast and lunch. These volunteers are from local public schools/ colleges, or are students from UMass. Local faith communities are the backbone of the meal program. They not only provide needed funds, they also supply reliable volunteers who come regularly. Our strong relationship with these churches such as Grace Church, Jewish Community of Amherst, First Congregational Church of Leverett and many others gives Not Bread Alone great stability in providing its meal service.
Feeding the hungry and homeless is a basic need for our community to address. Not Bread Alone provides meals on weekends. Its schedule complements that of the Amherst Survival Center, which serves lunch during the week. Not Bread Alone provides a comfortable and safe setting for all to dine and socialize together. It provides more than a meal. It is a place for all to gather and be in the company of one another.