Cooking for 250 isn’t that different from cooking for one, according to the Rev. John Castricum, pastor of the First Church of Christ, Congregational. You just need more ingredients and bigger pots.
Castricum demonstrated the concept on Friday when he prepared a rice and beans recipe served at the church for some of the migrant families who have landed in emergency shelter at the Bedford Plaza Hotel.
The lunch at the church was actually the second part of the afternoon. Part one was distribution of thousands of donated clothing items.
Bedford Director of Health and Human Services Heidi Porter has been the town government’s point person on the response to the migrants’ needs since they began arriving two months ago.
Porter coordinated with church staff and volunteers to arrange Friday’s clothing and meal.
“It was a great event today,” she said. “This was joyous.”
Porter said the number of migrant families at the hotel has stabilized at 84, comprising 268 individuals. She added that the hotel has been advised to expect five more families.
Tables overflowing with thousands of donated items filled the church’s Fellowship Hall. Children’s garments and footwear, provided by the social service organization Cradles to Crayons, were available on the stage. Porter said it took three vehicles three round trips between Bedford and Newtonville to transport all of the donations for children. Volunteer sorters spent the afternoon on Oct. 1 arranging the adult clothing by type and size to prepare for the event.
At the church, Porter was assisted by Mallory Fuller, social worker from her departmental staff, and Capt. John Daniels, the Fire Department’s fire prevention officer. Volunteers were ready to help pack and carry 60-gallon plastic bags, weighing at least 30 pounds each.
Castricum, pastor at First Church of Christ for 10 years, said he has a few years of restaurant work on his resume. He said the church kitchen is a special comfort zone, and feeding people is a foundational part of any ministry.
He consulted with an expert in Haitian cuisine – an employee on the food service staff at Carleton-Willard Village. They shopped together, and Castricum said among their purchases were Scotch bonnet peppers, which trip three or four alarms to the uninitiated, but are a staple in the Haitian Creole version of beans and rice.
The concoction was well received, and volunteers packed some of the leftovers for takeout. Castricum said he hopes at some point to open the church kitchen to the migrants so they can undertake their own food preparation.
He said the event at his church was an interfaith effort, and other churches are planning more activities to help the new arrivals.