Lending a helping hand – Student Volunteers Invaluable to Lynn’s My Brother’s Table

Students volunteering at My Brother's Table include, from left to right: Briana Lowe, Rosie Torres, Cindy Zavala and Shannon Lowe.

Students volunteering at My Brother’s Table include, from left to right: Briana Lowe, Rosie Torres, Cindy Zavala and Shannon Lowe.

By Sarah Phelan

It is very rare to hear a story reported about Lynn teens that doesn’t involve some sort of guns, drugs, or other types of reckless behavior. We don’t hear about students who are not texting as they are driving, or not circulating questionable photographs of their friends, not tagging local homes or not binge drinking.

We also don’t hear about kids who spend their afternoons or weekends studying, playing basketball outside with their younger siblings, helping in kindergarten classrooms during their free periods from local middle schools. We don’t read about kids who get a part-time job to help out with expenses at home or even those dozens of students who volunteer regularly to serve a hot meal to locals in need.

Why not?

Interim executive director at Lynn’s own My Brother’s Table, Mary Magner, never fails to be impressed by the commitment and energy of the young people of Lynn, she said. There, more than 2,500 volunteers help to prep, serve and clean up after a lunch and dinner every weekday and a dinner every weekend night, and 35-40 percent of those volunteers are young teens. “Since we have a small staff we could not exist without participation from young people,” she said.

Since 1982, My Brother’s Table has provided the poor of Lynn with a nutritious meal, with food donated by supermarkets, restaurants, food drives and individuals. It began and continues to run without federal, state or local aid and usually feeds up to 200 guests a night. The guests enter through the 98 Willow Street entrance, greeted by cheery, bright artwork painted in 1999 by LynnArts RAWArts students. The murals follow them up the access ramp to the dining room. Served cafeteria-style in a clean white dining room that looks like it jumped out of an IKEA catalog, guests are given their courses with a smile by the young volunteers.

It is easy to tell that many of the students have done this before, handling questions about the dressing on the salad, assembling the food on the tray of one guest while greeting another, and calling back for more from the prep area. Kitchen manager and chef Phil Sands seems to have both the regulars and the newbies under controlled chaos, like you’d see on any Hell’s Kitchen episode.

The prep volunteers have been peeling and chopping what seems to be an endless pile of vegetables, only taking a minute to collectively grab and slide a stainless steel table the length of the room, away from the wall, to provide easier access around the kitchen. The hot food preparation is underway as young teens under supervision mix, stir and pop the wonderful concoctions into giant ovens.

As hard as the volunteers have worked to prep, provide and serve this meal at My Brother’s Table, they only have a few minutes to watch as the guests – for many of whom this is the only consistent meal they receive throughout the week – enjoy the fruits of their labor before an arduous cleanup begins.

Both as part of a group or as individuals who look at My Brother’s Table as a part-time job or a way to stay away from trouble, student volunteers come from the high schools in the city – Classical, English, Tech and St. Mary’s – as well as the middle schools – Breed, Pickering and Marshall. Several youth groups regularly work hours at the Table, including the Boys and Girls Club and the Boy Scouts. Congregants from St. Pius, East Coast International and Washington Street Baptist and East Baptist churches also volunteer their time.

Magner explained, “Classical students have volunteered for about 15 years and serve during the summer, too. English students are lifesavers—often bailing us out at the last minute when a group cancels. In addition, they have been active in raising money for our annual turkey drive in November. For several years, EH students have raised money, purchased and delivered to MBT [My Brother’s Table] over 80 turkeys, which are distributed  to food pantries social service organizations or used at MBT.  About 75 students also participated in the Postal Workers’ Canned Food Drive to stamp out hunger. Students also participate in our Annual 3 Mile Walk along the Lynn Swampscott shoreline, which is being held on October 25.”

The money raised during the walk will go to fund regular lunches and dinners and other programs available through My Brother’s Table that include an in-house medical clinic on Tuesday evenings to provide care for minor health problems, blood pressure checks and referrals, and the Dinner Shuttle that provides meals to those who cannot make it to the Willow Street location, and an art therapy program open to anyone who would care to participate.

It has been said that bad news is reported because it goes against the basic human nature of goodness and service. Bad behavior becomes newsworthy only because acts of kindness number in the thousands every moment of every day. So one can only hope that the youth of Lynn continue to serve their communities as diligently and vigorously, without expectation of large thanks or overwhelming notoriety, striving perhaps not to be worthy of the “usual” headlines.

For more information on how to a school group can become involved, or if you would like to volunteer as an individual, visit www.mybrotherstable.org or call 781- 595-3224.

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