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All Saints’ Church community suppers set to return after COVID

  • Harriet DiCicco in the kitchen at Reynolds Hall, which has been upgraded, including the addition of all stainless steel surfaces. —STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

  • Harriet DiCicco and the All Saints' Church community supper team are preparing for the return of the suppers Sept. 6. —STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/5/2022 11:53:20 AM

Like everyone else, the team behind the Tuesday night community suppers at All Saints’ Church in Peterborough had to adjust when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

The church started delivering meals, but stopped after only a couple weeks.

“We didn’t get a lot of traction that way,” said Harriet DiCicco, a parishioner and member of the church’s community supper liaison team. “What people enjoy in our Tuesday community suppers is community.”

During the suppers’ absence, DiCicco said she had heard from people asking when they would return, and the church knew the suppers filled a need that hadn’t gone away.

Starting Tuesday, Sept. 6, the free dinners will be back from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the church’s Reynolds Hall at 50 Concord St.

DiCicco said a mix of people come to the suppers. Some are food-insecure, while others live alone and come for the socialization and others just like to come and take a night off from cooking and cleaning up.

“It’s a wonderfully diverse group, and it speaks that the ‘unity’ in ‘community’ is key,” she said.

According to DiCicco, someone can come to a supper, sit next to a person he or she doesn’t know and have a conversation.

“Who knows? You might sit with them the next Tuesday,” she said.

The menu is the same every week: a choice of chicken or vegetable soup, salad, bread and butter, beverage and dessert. Reynolds Hall can seat 100 people for dinners; before COVID, DiCicco said attendance had been in the 60s, and she would love to draw 60 to 65 now that the dinners have returned.

All the tables have tablecloths, as well as real china, real silverware and centerpieces.

“It’s by no means a soup kitchen,” DiCicco said. “It’s meant to make people feel like they are guests.”

Neither masks nor vaccinations will be required to attend the dinners, but there will be a sign-in sheet to allow for contact tracing if someone who attends the dinner tests positive for COVID. Should that happen, the person can call the church anonymously and the church will contact everyone on the list. 

A volunteer effort

To resume the dinners, the church had to get the blessing of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, as well as its vestry, which gave the approval in early summer.

Once the vestry gave its OK, team members reached out to the parish community and their friends to ask who was interested in volunteering.

“We’ve had an amazing response,” DiCicco said.

The dinners started in 2006, and Ivy Vann did the cooking for 11 years before the church hired a cook for the two years before COVID shut down the dinners. Now that the dinners are returning, volunteers will be doing the cooking.

Volunteers, who are a mix of parishioners and non-parishioners, also handle shopping, cleaning, setting up and breaking down tables and chairs. Shopping for each dinner begins on Monday, and on the day of the dinner, cooks will start the soups and dessert at 1 p.m., other volunteers start at 4 p.m., dinner is from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and cleanup lasts until about 7 p.m.

On Tuesday, DiCicco said 17 people will be working in shifts.

“It speaks to the enthusiasm,” she said. “There will be bumps and lumps, but it will all be done with good humor.”

Sometimes, DiCicco said guests will start taking down chairs and tables, and right before the dinners were suspended, a father brought his children and one of them always wanted to help.

“That’s kind of the direction we want to go, where it’s kind of a communal ownership,” she said.

New-look kitchen

Guests and volunteers will return to a renovated kitchen in Reynolds Hall after it was an area of focus in the church’s capital campaign. 

“That work has just finished,” DiCicco said. “We just got our certificate of occupancy from the Town of Peterborough.”

All the surfaces in the kitchen are now stainless steel, and new flooring is intended to be easier to clean and stand on. Storage areas have been reorganized and opened, and the space was reconfigured so six people could do different tasks.

The high-traffic area of the kitchen was also reconfigured to allow more space “so we weren’t doing the tango in the aisles,” DiCicco said.

State of Serendipity space unknown

Downstairs from the gathering space in Reynolds Hall is the Serendipity consignment store, which was also shut down due to the pandemic. DiCicco said the inventory was donated to NuDay Syria, an organization that sends items to refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Ukraine.

According to DiCicco, the vestry and incoming rector the Rev. Jennifer Walters will discuss what go into the space. Walters, previously dean of the undergraduate college at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, will start at All Saints’ Sept. 14, and her first service will be Sunday, Sept. 18.

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