By Lisa Hughes

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – For six years, volunteers have been offering lunch to people in need at First Church in Cambridge. At The Friday Café, guests enjoy a meal in a friendly space with people who have grown to know them and care about them.

Until the pandemic began, lunch was served inside. But starting in March, that was no longer possible. “Within a few days we just pivoted,” explained Reverend Kate Layzer. “We became an outdoor program.”

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She says the guests are both homeless and housed. Some struggle with substance abuse. Others are living in poverty.

Whatever their situation, they know that they can get a bagged lunch—or a lunch the City of Cambridge buys from a local restaurant—and sit at the tables surrounding the church.

“We try to meet as wide a swath of our neighbors as we can and just be there for people—whatever they’re going through.”

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Volunteers also offer guests toiletries, socks and underwear.

Beyond the basic needs, they also provide what four-year volunteer Arnie Bearak calls a “listening ear.” He says the guests have taught him a lot about life. “It is so important to engage people in conversation,” Bearak said. “Don’t just feed them. Talk to them. Listen to them.”

When The Friday Café was inside, volunteers served at least 150 people at lunchtime. Now, they say, they serve about 100 people every Friday. This year—for the first time—they won’t be taking a break. Rev. Layzer says the need is too great. “We usually close for July and August and give our volunteers a time to rest,” Layzer said. “When COVID struck we realized we really couldn’t do that because people were living too close to the edge. So we made a point of keeping going…. We’ve been open the entire time.”

They are already anticipating necessary additions for the fall and winter—namely canopies and heat lamps. But volunteers haven’t missed a single Friday and Rev. Layzer says they will be here for their guests. “This Christmas—December 25th—is falling on a Friday and we’ll be out here. Rain or shine. Whatever the weather,” Layzer said.

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If you want to make bagged lunches or learn more about the program, go to www.TheFriday.Cafe.

Lisa Hughes