Since 1984, Friday Night Supper Program (FNSP) has been providing hot, three course meals every Friday to homeless and low income individuals and families out of the Arlington St. Church. Having never missed a Friday, the COVID-19 crisis forced the three member staff, board, and group of volunteers to think quickly about how they were going to adapt operations to continue providing vital services to those in need.
The organization was also in the latest pool of recipients for a grant from the Boston Resiliency Fund. FNSP received $4300 from the fund. The Sun spoke with FNSP’s Development Director Jenny Lecoq about those adaptations as well as the grant, and how the money will be used during these still uncertain times. Since the early 1990s, FNSP has been a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that serves between 120 and 150 people each Friday, and typically has a volunteer group of about 40 people each week.
FNSP also holds a “Clothing Closet” twice a month where guests are able to get clothing, toiletries, blankets, and other similar items. Prior to COVID-19, the three course meal was served at tables on washable dishes, and a soup, entree, and dessert are offered along with coffee and water. Lecoq said the focus is on “dignity, community, and bringing people together.” A sample menu on the FNSP website for a “Tiki Dinner” includes Hawaiian Chicken with Pineapple, Hawaiian Tofu with Pineapple as a vegetarian/vegan option, Rice and Broccoli, Ginger Carrot Soup, Green Salad, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for dessert. Much of the food for the meals comes from the Greater Boston Food Bank, but FNSP also has partnerships with Lovin’ Spoonfuls, Iggy’s Bakery, and Ben and Jerry’s.
Around March 15, the organization had to switch to a to-go model to comply with restrictions put in place by the virus. The hot meals are still freshly prepared by Kitchen Manager Eddie Garcia, who is a trained chef and comes up with the menus himself. Lecoq said he tries to include as much seasonal produce into meals as possible so they are fresh and healthy. Every meal has a vegetarian option, and at least one fresh vegetable. Lecoq said that individuals are lined up outside of the church (at a safe social distance), and then meals are being distributed in to-go boxes in the foyer of the church.
Recently, FNSP has been distributing a lot of non-perishable items, as well as emergency items like masks, hand sanitizer, toiletry items, and soap, so everyone has supplies to keep themselves healthy during the pandemic. She added that the number of volunteers has dropped from 40 to around 10 to 15 a week “for the safety of everyone” as well as the fact that not as many volunteers are needed for the to-go box distribution.
“Now we’re just in the stage of just trying to see what our next steps are,” Lecoq said. While more and more businesses and other places begin to open up across the city, she said that FNSP is still considering the safest way to do so and won’t be switching back to a dine-in method any time soon. Lecoq said that the Boston Resiliency Fund grant awarded to FNSP is especially appreciated this year, as traditional sources of funding were not available due to the pandemic.
“About 30 percent of our funding comes from individuals,” she said, a quarter comes from grants and annual funding, and another quarter from the annual gala. This year, the annual gala was scheduled for May and had to be cancelled. Instead, “We did a spring emergency appeal to individuals,” she said, as well as received some government funding along with the grant from the Boston Resiliency Fund, which she said has “been able to make up that deficit.” She said that “this year, the grant funding and extra funding has been very, very important.”
She called the Boston Resiliency Fund money “a significant grant,” and will be used for FNSP’s weekly operations and additional expenses due to the virus. She said that expenses for the organization have increased in recent months due to the need to provide take out containers and PPE, as well as additional security. “The community has really come together,” Lecoq said. “We’re extremely grateful to the City of Boston and the Boston Resiliency Fund and all of our supporters in Boston to keep us going, and to help us to provide the critical services that we do for Boston’s homeless population.”