Easter meal offers more than just hot food for those in need

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Stephanie Igharosa, who is a freshman at the University of Massachusetts, tastes a rice and bean stew as Isaac Rodriguez, of Agawam, stirs gravy for an Easter meal at Not Bread Alone, at First Congregational Church of Amherst on Sunday (3/27/2016)

Stephanie Igharosa (pictured on left) spent Easter morning helping to cook a feast, but this year there were more mouths to feed.

Instead of partnering with her mother and grandmother in the kitchen like she typically does, this year she was joined by nearly 20 volunteers working to provide 90 meals for those in need through Not Bread Alone, a community meal program in Amherst.

“This is my first time ever spending Easter away from my family,” said Igharosa, who is a freshman University of Massachusetts Amherst student from Randolph. “I’ve heard about this place before and today seemed like the perfect opportunity to experience it for myself.”

The program, which is run in the lower level of the First Congregational Church of Amherst, serves roughly 250 hot meals each week – on Wednesdays at 4 p.m., Saturdays at noon., and Sundays at 12 p.m.

Bob Stover, program supervisor, said the program provides meals to people “down on their luck and in a hard spot” on days when the Amherst Survival Center is closed.

“This is a day when people contemplate where they are in life and who they are connected to, or not,” Stover said, regarding the holiday. “When everyone else in the world is with their families, we try to bridge that gap for them … by providing good food, a peaceful atmosphere, a nice buzz of conversation and diverse connections.”
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Eli Becker, of Springfield, and Connie Rust Conn, of Hadley, share a moment as she cuts up turkey for the Not Bread Alone Easter meal at First Congregational Church of Amherst. on Sunday (3/27/2016)

By noon Sunday, the downstairs room was full of people happily chatting over the freshly cooked food. The food lineup, consisting of turkey, ham, rice, beans, sweet potato casserole, brownies, and s’mores, was made possible by donations from The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Inc., various food drives and donations and the program’s small budget.

“Especially for these people who are homeless or don’t have as many privileges or resources as I do, it’s even more necessary that they know they are cared about,” said Igharosa.

She noted that the benefits of Sunday’s meal could reach far beyond simply filling a physical need.

“When you are full, you feel nourished and ready for the day,” said Igharosa. “I hope that our work will be somehow impactful and give them the strength to look for a job or a house or so on. It’s not just eating, but also forming a community, and that’s big.”

Jerome Pinette, who has been homeless off and on in the Hadley area since July, is doing just that – looking for a new home. Pinette, who already has a job, was joined during the meal by his son Austin Pinette, 9, of Brattleboro, Vermont, who was visiting his father for the weekend.

“Times are tough and people don’t always call you back,” said Pinette, who pays for a motel every time his son visits. “But, it feels like a big family here and the food is better than a restaurant. It actually fills you up for a while.”

Pinette said that when he doesn’t have to spend as much money on food, he can save more to put toward a new place to live.

“Once you come here, they kind of hook you up,” he said. “I have a lot more friends here than I had before. You’d be surprised.”

 

 

By SARAH CROSBY, @DHGCrosby, Originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette: http://www.gazettenet.com/News/Local/Easter-Meal-1184153

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