There are many ways to spend a Tuesday morning in Somerville. Lito Karatsoli recently spent part of hers helping to ensure that nearly 500 people-in-need had enough food to get through the month.
Karatsoli volunteered for the Brown Bag program, a monthly collaboration between Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) and the Greater Boston Food Bank. A freelance designer who recently moved to town, Karatsoli said it was a good way to get involved with the community.
“I was interested in volunteering and this program really resonated with me,” she said. “I love food and cook all the time—it’s a big part of my life—and helping other people have healthy food is an important thing.”
Hosted at the Somerville Center for Arts at the Armory on the second Tuesday of each month, Brown Bag begins at 8 a.m., with the Greater Boston Food Bank delivering 3.5 tons of groceries. Some 30 volunteers take it from there, loading pasta, oranges, and non-perishable food items into the large brown bags that give the program its name.
Having coordinated Brown Bag since its inception in 2004, SCES Community Meals Program Director Deb McLean said volunteers are key to making it all work.
“There are only two staffers here, so we’re always looking for volunteers,” she said. “We have one group that comes in and breaks down the boxes as we go and that’s huge, because otherwise they’d be piled to the ceiling each week when we’re done.”
The program serves Cambridge and Somerville residents aged 60-and-up, or disabled people who live in a housing facility primarily occupied by the elderly. Recipients must also meet income guidelines or receive one of the following assistance programs: Food Stamps, Medicaid, SSI, Fuel Assistance, or Veterans Aid.
The most recent Brown Bag delivered 400 bags of groceries to local senior housing, with 100 more staying at the armory, for clients to pick up between 10 and noon. McLean said the program provides a crucial dietary supplement for clients, adding the menu varies during the year.
“We distribute things like chicken, hamburger and yogurt during the winter, but we stay away from that during the summer months, because of the temperatures,” she said.
Some of the volunteers were from local companies, such as Middlesex Federal Savings bank. Others are locals who’ve been with the program since the start, like volunteer Dick Haley.
“The people are why I keep coming back—they’re great,” he said. “It’s fun. It actually is.”
Registration is required for the Brown Bag program. To learn more or about registration, or to learn about volunteering, call SCES at 617-628-2601.