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First Baptist’s Crossroads Café brings seniors together for food and fun

Posted by Laura Gomez  March 18, 2013 02:36 PM

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Lauren Moquin for Boston.com

Volunteer Maryette Dussourd, Jennifer Whitlock, Gary Olshan of Mt. Washington Bank, a sponsor, and chef Geoffrey Whitlock in the kitchen at The First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain.

The First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain has been through many challenges in its history. But church members have come together to offer Jamaica Plain senior citizens a sense of community every Saturday at 12:30 with the Crossroads Café.

First Baptist JP, at 633 Centre St., previously had a thrift shop run by volunteers that drew the community to the church to find clothing and housing items.

“It was filled top to bottom with things that people brought in to the store. It was a lot to keep up, but it kept the church alive,” Reverend Ashlee Wiest-Laird said.

A 2005 fire burned down the church and forced the congregation to start from scratch. The thrift shop was no longer, but the church worked to bring Jamaica Plain residents together with other programs.

Crossroads Café has now been going for two years and the cook, Geoff Whitlock, has seen the program grow.

“In the beginning, we would get 10-12 people for lunch. Now, it depends on the season, but we will see 50-60 people for lunch on Saturdays in the summer,” Whitlock said. “I knew how to feed 10 people at a time, but 60 was a learning experience.”

Wiest-Laird said she found Whitlock through a friend, and he has been a core piece of Crossroads Café since.

As a 2009 graduate of Cambridge Culinary School and a former cook at Winchester’s Catch Restaurant, Whitlock plans the menu with what ingredients are possible, but as the word was spread and seniors began bringing friends, Whitlock had to adjust his cooking techniques.

Even with new routines to accommodate new seniors, there was no getting around the fact that more food was needed. The ingredients for the Crossroads Café’s menu are now partly a result of the generosity of the Jamaica Plain community.

Red Fire Farm drops off enough leftover vegetables each week so that seniors can actually bring a little home with them. Other community partnerships have been built with local eateries and companies such as the Ula Café , Ethos, and When Pigs Fly.

One recent lunch was much anticipated — fish was on the menu. The seniors who attend each week are asked what they would like to see on a given Saturday, but even though fish was always a top request, it was just too expensive. But for this Saturday, an anonymous donation made possible a special meal of cod with a tomato based sauce, red lentils, salad, and a variety of breads.

But with the special meal came an unusual problem. The oven in the church broke, so Whitlock and the volunteers hustled back and forth from the Reverend’s house, next door to the church to prepare the fish and to get the meal on the table promptly at 12:30 p.m.

“We are lucky with our volunteers. Seniors just started coming into the kitchen wanting to help, and have continued to help out with everything ever since. I can’t make it next week, and I am not too worried about it,” Whitlock said.

These Jamaica Plain seniors have been a driving force, carrying platters back and forth from the kitchen and singing away next to the piano. The sense of community and just plain friendship is something they find worthy of the striving.

As Marion Poyner and Eileen Caulfield sat side by side chatting away as a group of participants were singing along with the piano melody played in the front of the room. A man came around to greet them and others at the table with cups decorated with frilled red tissue paper. As bright-faced Poyner poked into the cup to reveal candy, she looked all around.

Poyner smiled. “I recognize these people around, now. I’m not good at names,” she said, “but it’s just nice to recognize them.”

This story is part of a partnership of Emerson College and the Globe.

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