LACONIA — Hands Across the Table (HATT), now in its second full year of providing a free community dinner every Tuesday, held its first event in its temporary home at the St. Andre Bessette Parish Parish Hall on Gilford Ave. last night.
The non-profit organization had been holding its weekly meals at the former St. James Episcopal Church, now the location of the Boys and Girls Club of the Lakes Region, until recent vandalism forced the facility's temporary closure.
Fr. Marc Drouin of the St. Andre Bessette Parish offered the organization the use of its facilities and Kyril Mitchell, president of the Hands Across the Table board of directors, said it was greatly appreciated.
''We knew they were in the middle of the repair process at the club and wanted to be out of their way while they completed it,'' said Mitchell, who expects that it will be some time in January before Hands Across the Table will be back at its old location.
Last night about 85 people showed up for the meal, soup, lasagna, vegetables and dessert, despite a winter storm which moved in late in the afternoon.
''This is all the work of volunteers,. We have about 200 people we can call on' said Mitchell, who says that Hands Across the Table receives assistance from 10 local churches, eight clubs and organizations and additional contributions of food and funds by area banks, retail food businesses and several anonymous donors.
Dinner service is performed by the volunteers whose goal is to make each Tuesday dinner a body and soul satisfying event for the attendees.
In rotation, each of the sponsoring churches and organizations is responsible for a dinner including the food preparation, service and clean up. It takes more than a dozen volunteers to complete a weekly service that always includes a greeter, dining room manager and multi-course table service.
Dinners are planned around quality menus, including beef stew, chicken cacciatore, meatloaf, corned beef , appropriate side dishes, vegetarian dishes and of course, desserts.
Mitchell says that Chef Lou Gaynor and Assistant Chef Tammy Fontaine are always creative in their use of ingredients and focus on planning nutritious meals with an emphasis on high quality protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables.
''Each meals costs $1.69. That covers not only the food, but all our other expenses, including insurance,'' says Mitchell. He says that after everyone is served seconds are offered and that leftover food is packaged so that those at the meal can bring it home with them.
''We served over 6,000 meals in our first year and have developed a large group of people who show up just about every week. And it's not just the food, but also about the friendships and sense of community these meals help create,'' says Mitchell.
Among the regulars at the meal are Matthew and Cindy Grady, whose 5-year-old son, Jayden, who attends kindergarten at Elm Street Elementary School, provided some entertainment at Tuesday night's meal by singing ''Santa Claus is Coming to Town'' and several other Christmas songs.
''It's just like family to us here. We love the people we've met and got to know since we've been attending these dinners'' said Cindy Grady.
Matthew Grady says that his son loves to sing and play the guitar and that the meals provide a real sense of community for all those taking part.
Gaynor said ''It's wonderful that Fr. Marc Drouin was able to offer us facilities to feed our guests who look forward to this hot meal each week. We are serving greater numbers of guests each week and during the cold weather and holidays it is even more important that we make the weekly dinner available to all who wish to attend. We look forward to returning to our friends and hosts at the Boys and Girls Club as soon as repairs are completed."
Hands Across the Table will hold its second meal at the Parish Hall on New Year's Eve and is gearing up for a big crowd to come through the doors for the 5 p.m. meal.
Kitchen crew for Hands Across the Table at it first meal at St. Andre Bessette Parish Parish Hall, where the weekly Tuesday night night meal has temporarily relocated, were Pam Lapointe, Debbie Frawley Drake, Chef Lou Gaynor, Don Morin and Assistant Chef Tammy Fontaine. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)