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Taking Initiative to Provide Meals in Boston

It all started with miniature cheesecakes. 

At Commonwealth's last lunch before the 2021 Thanksgiving break, Arjun ’24 and Alex ’24 noticed that, despite the desserts' popularity, there were still many leftovers in serving containers. The two friends developed a plan to share the remaining cheesecakes with unhoused people on the streets of Boston. They soon realized that their little idea had the potential to be more than a one-time act of generosity. 

"We started bringing [more food] to people on the street. And then, eventually, we realized that there were not enough people on the street to give to, because it was starting to get cooler at the time. So we decided to go to shelters, and we ended up dropping food off there," Alex explains. 

"And then we thought: why not open this to the whole school?" Arjun continues.

They decided to codify their plans into a fully fledged student club, coming up with the structure over winter break and confirming that time spent delivering food could count towards Commonwealth's volunteer requirements. The sophomores then unveiled their group, the Commonwealth Food Initiative (CFI), early in the new year. 

In short, CFI matches Commonwealth's extra food resources with Bostonians in need—and its founders are working to keep its vital deliveries going. 

"An Easy Process with a Big Effect" 

How do students get involved with CFI? "It's a very, very, very easy process," Arjun emphasizes.

At the end of each day's lunch, students with a free period who aren't on meal cleanup duty head to the Commonwealth kitchen, checking in with staff to see if there's a surplus from the day's lunch. If there are leftovers, the group packages them and brings them on the T's Green Line to Government Center, stopping at the New England Center and Home for Veterans (NECHV). There, participants distribute the food to residents. Students can drop in for one session or commit to the full semester—whatever works with their schedules.

One of the best parts about Commonwealth is that everyone is so involved, and everybody is so caring for others—it's a tight-knit community. So if we expand that to the communities of Back Bay, of Boston, you're helping out others like you'd help another student here."

The process might be simple, but the work Arjun and Alex coordinate has an immediate impact on the veterans, who are at risk of homelessness and depend on the daily meals. "It's a really hands-on experience—you get to see who you're giving food to, and you get to see the appreciation of people who work there. It feels good," Alex says. "It's an easy process, but it's with a big effect." 

CFI's distribution doesn't just help local veterans; it's good for the environment, too. "Food that was supposed to go to waste is actually going to a good cause," Arjun points out. "I think that's just so rewarding."

When the two sophomores first transitioned from meal distribution on the street to shelters, they worked with St. Francis House, a homeless shelter and transitional program near Boston Common. But when they heard from staff at the house that the NECHV, also nearby, had a greater need due to their smaller kitchen capacity, they began their current partnership. As this academic year wraps up, Arjun and Alex are already looking ahead, considering bagged lunch drop-offs over the summer and gathering data on the food they'll deliver in the fall.

Commonwealth faculty and staff have pitched in at every stage of CFI; they include Mandarin teacher Rui Shu, who coordinates participants' volunteer hours; Chef Dethie Faye, who assists with organizing meals; and even Head of School Jennifer Borman. "On the first day, [Ms. Borman] approved our request to bring cheesecake around the community," Alex remembers. "We've been really lucky."

Arjun and Alex want to make sure that, when the program resumes next fall, all students know they can get involved, too. With a T-accessible volunteer site and community service credit available, it's an ideal project for any Commonwealth student. 

"One of the best parts about Commonwealth is that everyone is so involved, and everybody is so caring for others—it's a tight-knit community. So if we expand that to the communities of Back Bay, of Boston, you're helping out others like you'd help another student here," Alex says.

"The most important aspect of this is that you're helping people," Arjun adds, "and that's what life's about."
 

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