As the holiday season approaches and we turn our focus to family and festive events, it is important to also remember that many on Cape Cod are experiencing nutritional insecurity. The Family Table Collaborative, in South Yarmouth, is a shining example of the creative ways Cape Codders unite and leverage local relationships and resources to help these neighbors in need.
Jeni Wheeler, culinary visionary, agent for social change, local business owner, and the former Executive Chef and Program Director at Faith’s Family Kitchen in Hyannis, co-founded The Family Table Collaborative with fellow chef Harry Henry of the Cape Cod Culinary Incubator in March of 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wheeler and Henry partnered with Michael Pillarella, chapter president and co-founder of the Cape and the Islands Chefs Association of the American Culinary Federation, and Joseph Ellia, a culinary instructor at Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical High School and former executive chef at The West End in Hyannis. Together, they mapped out a plan to use the food surplus left when restaurants were forced to close due to the pandemic to feed those in need. The Family Table Collaborative was born.
The Family Table Collaborative is Cape Cod’s Community Kitchen
Cape Cod is a world-class vacation destination known for its pristine coastline, wild beauty, and salty charm. Yet so much of what makes Cape Cod special and unique contributes to the challenges many year-round residents must navigate. Among these are the high cost of living and lack of affordable housing. According to Feeding America, 8.6% of Barnstable County residents are food insecure, defined as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life.
Jeni Wheeler and The Family Table Collaborative team have a “big picture” approach to meeting the needs of Cape Codders. Wheeler shared, “We are addressing the whole ecosystem on the Cape. We can’t operate in a bubble. We start with food, but we also plan to address workforce housing and opportunities for fractional job sharing. People need good food, but they also need a place to live and a job. In addition to providing meals, the Family Table Collaborative will offer culinary education, a makers space, and a commercial kitchen rental space for food entrepreneurs. We want the food we provide to the community to be nutritious and high-quality.”
The Family Table Collaborative weekly rescues unsold fresh produce from local farms, restaurants, and stores like Whole Foods Market. Their team of over 400 volunteers collects 100 cases of produce from Whole Foods alone each week. Volunteers then distribute the food to Cape agencies, who use it to prepare meals for the populations they serve – veterans, families, and seniors.
This year for Thanksgiving, more than 4 dozen FTC volunteers packed and distributed 1200 meals throughout the day! 700 meals went to agencies from Falmouth to Eastham. Almost 200 people gathered to with the Family Table Collaborative for their Thanksgiving Meal. This is what community looks like!
The Commons at Riverway and The Maker’s Market
In November 2021, The Family Table Collaborative opened its new home at the former Riverway Lobster House in South Yarmouth. The reborn property, renovated by volunteers, is now The Commons at Riverway and operates as a café, tavern, and local Maker’s Market. The facility is also available to rent for special events, community functions, and fundraisers. The Commons is open on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 8-noon.
Dennis Port’s popular Woolfie’s Bakery, can be found at the Riverway Commons, selling many different types of delicious muffins, breakfast sandwiches, and pastries on the weekends. You will also find pre-made meals to take and bake at home as well as a collection of items from Collaborative Partners, like Gustare Oils and Vinegars, BeeBoss Honey, and Chequesset Chocolates.
In addition to local food maker’s products, you can purchase FTC swag and pre-made meals to purchase and take home to your family. Not only are you getting nutritious homemade meals but the proceeds are supporting the amazing work of the FTC.
New Distribution Venues for the FTC
The Family Table Collaborative is now distributing meals at the Hyannis Youth Center from 4:30-5:30pm on the 1st and third Thursdays of each month.
They have also added a fridge at the Hyannis Library for those facing food insecurity. It is stocked twice weekly
How is the Family Table Collaborative Funded?
The proceeds from the Commons at Riverway and the Maker’s Market go to support the Family Table Collaborative providing healthy, prepared meals to those in need. This revenue supports running and sustaining the efforts of the Family Table Collaborative.
The Family Table Collaborative uses revenue generated by The Commons to cover the cost of operating the Collaborative. “Every revenue stream coming into the organization will support the Collaborative. Any time someone stops by the café to pick up a meal or to have lunch, any time the space is rented for an event, or the kitchen space is used, all of this helps the mission of the Collaborative,” said Wheeler.
Many local organizations and charitable foundations also support the FTC. They were recently the recipient of the Brewster Baptist Church Holiday Fair and featured at the Bass River Multicultural Food Fest.
Everyone Has A Seat at the Table
The Family Table Collaborative is infused with the pure joy, enthusiasm, and relentless persistence of its co-founder Jeni Wheeler and her team of caring, dedicated Cape Cod chefs. Add to that recipe 400 volunteers so inspired by this mission that they jumped at the chance to participate, and a host of local businesses and other community partners committed to its success.
This holiday season, we are featuring the Family Table Collaborative in our Holiday Shopping Guide, as a great way for you to make a donation in the name of the loved ones on your Christmas List. Be sure to visit the Riverway Commons on Saturdays, Sundays or Mondays from 8-noon to support the Collaborative and to witness the brilliant spirit of the Cape Cod community.
To support the Family Table Collaborative online or to sign up to volunteer, please visit https://www.familytablecollaborative.org/support-us.