Spotlight: Martha’s Table

When I was in high school, Wednesdays were always the worst days.

Strike one: it was chapel day.  I went to an Episcopalian high school, and Wednesdays we always had to go to a chapel service. It was SUPER boring, and there was this one girl in the choir who thought she could sing but really couldn’t. We also had to dress appropriately, which meant coat and tie for the boys and nice clothes and heels for the girls. I hate heels. I’m tall enough as is, and they are nowhere near as comfortable as my footwear of choice—Rainbows. But, I digress.

Strike two: I always had a double helping (i.e. a hour and a half) of my least favorite classes on Wednesdays. I don’t know how it happened, but it always worked that way.

Strike three: it was the day before “The OC.”  The anticipation was always killing me by then.

Strike four should have been having to wake up at 6 every couple of Wednesday mornings, but that was actually fun. Some Wednesdays, some of my classmates and I would get to school an hour early to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for an organization called Martha’s Table in Washington, D.C. We would play music, try to beat last week’s sandwich number, and I always relished getting my chapel outfit a little messed up.

It was experiences like these in high school that made me really want to get more involved in food kitchens and volunteering in college. I look back on those Wednesday mornings fondly—they were usually the only good thing about that whole day. In the years since then, Martha’s Table has grown, and now they have many programs. I thought I would share my interview with their Volunteer Coordinator, Nadia Sicard.

Q. How would you describe Martha’s Table and its mission?

Martha’s Table aims at fighting poverty in both the short term, through our food and clothing programs, as well as in the long term through our various educational programs. We provide a hand up and a safe environment for members of our community who need it the most.

Q. Martha’s table has several different food programs. How do you decide what to serve and when?

McKenna’s Wagon: we serve people who are homeless on the streets of DC in 3 locations 365 days a year.
Children’s Program: we serve about 1,200 meals a day to children who are in daycare or after school programs 5 days a week.
Campbell Heights: we serve hot food on the weekends to a senior citizens residence that does not have food service on weekends
Sacred Heart: we prepare food for Sacred Heart Church nightly for them to serve to their clients inside, 365 days a year
Pathways to Housing and Neighbors First: we provide food baskets to their clients, people who were chronically homeless but people who have been given housing….we give them the food.
Pantry Day: we distribute food on the fourth Thursday of the month to anyone who shows up at our door.
Referral Agencies: we distribute food daily through a referral system of more than 175 agencies who refer clients to us.
Holiday Dinners: we host community dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter serving about 1,110 people per dinner.
Partner Agencies: daily we distribute any excess food we have to any number of agencies throughout the city in an effort to avoid wasting food that we cannot use immediately.
Martha’s Table Program Families: during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons we provide food baskets to families of children who are enrolled in our daycare and after school programs.
Meals for Minds: a new program that will start in September to… provide 200 baskets of food to needy families at 2 public schools in DC.

Q. How do you cook for so many people?

Through a combination of manpower and our facilities. We rely heavily on donations of sandwiches and hot meals from schools, churches, businesses and other volunteer groups and our kitchen staff spends each day in the kitchen cooking all day long. We are also equipped with helpful kitchen appliances such as our enormous soup pot that allows us to make sixty-five gallons of soup every day.

Q. Where does most of the food come from? How much of it is local and/or organic? Is any of it from local restaurants?

About 80% is donated by schools, individuals, corporations, churches, restaurants, grocery stores, farms and gleaning networks. An increasing amount of local, fresh and organic. During the growing season, probably 80% of the produce, meat and fruit is local, fresh and organic.

Q. This year Martha’s Table decided to make a move to being more nutritious. What was the impetus for starting the program? How are you implementing it?

As Martha’s Table has grown as an organization over the last thirty-one years, we have been able to push ourselves further on the quality of our programs. With malnutrition being one of the most serious complications due to poverty and hunger, we are trying to make every meal we serve as nutritionally valuable as possible. We have maintained and grown our relationships with local farmers markets so that we are able to use fresh produce in our meals for the members of the community we serve, including the children in our programs.

Q. As a volunteer coordinator, why do you think college students should get involved in volunteering at organizations like Martha’s Table?

Volunteering at Martha’s Table not only provides great insight into the role of a local nonprofit within a community, but also to see the struggles people in our nation face on a day to day basis and how we can help.

Q. What are qualities that you look for in a volunteer?

Compassion, positivity and energy are the qualities an ideal volunteer possesses.

Q. What was the most memorable meal you’ve served?

The most memorable meal I served was my first Thanksgiving Dinner. I did not expect there to be so many people. Working for an organization that helps the homeless is great, but it is difficult at times to see the severity of the poverty in our very own city.

Q. Have you gotten close to any people through your work at Martha’s Table? Have any of the volunteers?

I do not work directly with the clients so I have less of an opportunity for interaction. Many of the volunteers who go out on McKenna’s on a regular basis are on a first name basis with clients.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share about Martha’s Table, your experiences there, etc.?

Martha’s Table is a great place that is all about making a difference in the community. I feel that organizations such as this one are what we need to make our city a better place.

Emily is a recent grad of Colgate University, where she studied International Relations and Art History and volunteered at the Friendship Inn and with the Colgate Hunger Outreach Program. She loves to bake cookies.

Originally posted on Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

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