Sometimes, while walking down Massachusetts Avenue toward Central Square on Wednesday afternoons, Benjamin Francis talks to homeless people. He convinces as many as possible to come to St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church on Harvard Street at 6 p.m. A free, home-cooked meal awaits those who accept his invitation.
Francis, an MIT junior, is leading a group of students who, to help the homeless and hungry, founded a soup kitchen. Opened Oct. 26, serving 27 people, the kitchen now operates every Wednesday evening, when there are no other community meals served in the area.
“When you see a way to help ... why not carry it out?” Francis says.
The project is supported by MIT Hillel's Rabbi Michelle Fisher SM '97 and Eliad Shmuel, Chaplain to the Institute Robert Randolph, Professor Jeffrey Ravel, St. Bartholomew’s and Food For Free, a nonprofit organization that runs a local food-rescue program and donates most of the food.
There are approximately 40 volunteers on the project, consisting of students from MIT Hillel, three MIT fraternities (Zeta Psi, Sigma Nu and Phi Kappa Sigma), and others who joined after hearing about the project by word of mouth. At any given time on a Wednesday evening, 10 to 15 volunteers operate the soup kitchen. They cook, serve food, clean and talk with many of the people who come in for dinner.
“We have a chef who comes every Wednesday,” Francis says. “He always gives us really good suggestions for improving the food.”
Francis says he is also excited to see people come back every week. “One gentleman is incredible in how he is always cheerful; you can't help but smile when he comes,” Francis says. “And one woman brings her children along; having children there adds a special feel to dinner.”
The group anticipates serving 50 people a week once word about the community meal spreads. Francis predicts that the more people who hear about the soup kitchen and attend the meals, the more likely the scope of the project will be able to widen. Francis hopes to expand the mission of the project to help match homeless people with employment opportunities. He expects the project to eventually develop into an official student group called MIT Feed the Hungry. Due to the rapid expansion of the volunteer base, Francis says, “it’s not just a branch of MIT Hillel anymore, it’s much bigger.”
According to the City of Cambridge Department of Human Service Programs, there are an estimated 345 homeless people in Cambridge. These individuals depend heavily on community support for survival, and MIT students can help address this need. If you are interested in getting involved by donating or volunteering, contact Benjamin at firstname.lastname@example.org.