Photo, above: Co-founder and President Vicky I of Community Cooks welcomed guests at the September 30 dinner.
"Celebrate Community Cooks: Food and Music Under a Full Moon" took place Sunday evening at the Cambridge Boat Club on Gerry’s Landing Road just off Memorial Drive. The dinner event hailed the organization’s volunteer cooks, led by Vicky I of Somerville. They have been providing home-cooked meals for neighbors in need for more than 20 years.
The cooks prepared and served the celebratory feast, loading tables with bite-sized treats from artichokes to ziti and circulating with trays of sausage, stuffed mushrooms, “chicken things,” cookies, tarts, and more.
Photo, left: As promised in the event's title, the moon came up over the Charles on cue. Program coordinator Mary Todd (left) and volunteer Sarah Lee enjoyed the scene from the deck.
Community Cooks began in Somerville, but it has expanded to include the Cambridge-Somerville area and other nearby cities, providing meals on a regular schedule at area homeless shelters and programs for women, families, youths, and people with disabilities. The cooks make the dishes; other team members plan menus and organize distribution.
“We make one dish, once a month,” said volunteer cook Rahul Bhargava, who appears in a photo below with his family and On The Rise Director Martha Sandler, one of the evening's speakers. “That’s not a big burden, and I like doing it — it's something people really need," Bhargava said. He is a civic technology specialist at MIT; food he prepares for Community Cooks goes to CASPAR (Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation), which operates several shelters and services in Somerville.
Speakers: Vicky I welcomed guests and spoke briefly, noting that the organization now has 501(c)(3) status, making it officially a tax-exempt non-profit operation. The number of volunteer cooks has grown from a handful at the beginning to nearly 300 this year; in 2011-2012 they prepared and delivered some 14,000 meals.
She introduced Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis and local speakers (below) who talked about their experiences with Community Cooks.
Photo, left: Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis (at left), greeted the Community Cooks and thanked them on behalf of the city for the nutritious home-cooked meals they bring regularly to centers that serve local disadvantaged populations. With Mayor Davis is Community Cooks board member Jay Yesselman. The wall behind them is lined with photos of the organization's volunteers.
Photo, left: Martha Sandler (at right), is Executive Director of On The Rise, Inc., a day program at 341 Broadway, Cambridge, for homeless women in Cambridge, Somerville, and Greater Boston. Sandler said women who come to On The Rise are likely to be struggling with a range of issues such as abuse, trauma, addiction, and mental and physical challenges. Three times each month Community Cooks delivers meals there for about 20 women; the meals are crucially important because they are tasty and nutritious and because the women can eat them in an atmosphere that is safe, comfortable, and welcoming.
With Sandler are Somerville residents Rahul and Emily Bhargava and their daughter.
Photo, left: Bill F. Timmins (at right), Youth Services Coordinator at YouthBuild JustAStart, and program participant Nick Vasconcelos (left). Timmins thanked Community Cooks for making it possible for those in the program to have a meal together every month. YouthBuild JustAStart, 1175 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, helps low-income young people complete their secondary education, learn job skills and become productive in their communities. Timmins introduced Nick Vasconcelos, a former drop-out who is now working to finish high school and studying mathematics at Bunker Hill College; he is preparing to become a math teacher.
Music: The early part of the evening featured music by (photo, left) Susanna Quilter, flute, and Leandro Pellegrino, guitar. After the talks there was swing music for dancing by the Ruthie Ristich Quartet (below, left): Ben Cook, piano, Rick McLaughlin, bass, Bertram Lehman, drums, Ruthie Ristich, voice. The finale was a set by She Boom, a.k.a. Somerville’s Post-Menopausal Brazilian Percussion Ensemble (below, center); their playlist included political protest classics. The eight drummers were Julie Schneider, Lesley Bannatyne, Adria Steinberg, Janine Fay, Deborah Pacini, Janet Axelrod, Fargo, and Margaret Ryan. They wore aprons to express solidarity with the cooks; all eight are Community Cooks volunteers, as is Ms. Ristich.