Church group strains to meet needs of hungry

A hum of Kreyol rose softly from the tiny room at the Greater Boston Nazarene Compassionate Center on River Street as local residents filed in early on a rainy Wednesday morning. Soon, we were standing nearly shoulder to shoulder with more than 100 people waiting eagerly for their share of the bounty of food piled high on a couple of tables.

The GBNCC has been running a food bank on River Street for nearly 14 years. On Wednesday mornings starting around 10 a.m., volunteers distribute parcels of food to neighbors. Most days, the center is packed long before distribution begins.

According to GBNCC Executive Director, Rev. Dr. Pierre Zephir, the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January has sent the food bank into overdrive due to its mainly Haitian demographic.
“We need to expand. You saw that room,” said Zephir with a laugh. “We’ve seen a big, big increase since the earthquake.”

And residents are happy to receive the aid. Marie Gideol has been coming to the food bank since it opened. She says that the facility has helped greatly with sending money back to her family in Haiti, who were displaced by the quakes.

“Can you see my face?” said Gideol, giving an emphatic thumbs-up. “This is great! This has made life much easier for me and my family!”

The GBNCC began as an offshoot of the Dorchester Church of the Nazarene in 2003. Most of the food is provided by the Greater Boston Food Bank. Many of the staffers at the food bank are volunteers from the church.

“I really love working here” said Nirva Louis, her hands deftly stacking half-cartons of fresh eggs. Louis is a congregation member who has been a volunteer since 2005. “I saw that the food bank didn’t have any paid staff, so I decided to give myself as a volunteer. I would be very happy if we could get more volunteers and serve more people.”

Residents fill out an intake form, which GBNCC staff use to determine how much food each applicant should receive. According to staff, the food bank donates to at least 20,000 individuals per year. This does not take into account GBNCC’s other programs, including an ESL class, a computer literacy club and an diabetes support group, among other programs on the roster which, according to Zephir, make the BYCC the “most prominent Haitian faith-based service community in the area.”

Zephir still sees room for improvement and expansion but says that he wants to remain in the community.

“I want [the city] to know what we are doing here, and the effort that is being put forward to make this happen. I want them to know the impact that this organization has had on this community, but we also want to stay here,” he says.