On Friday evenings during the winter, Pauline Speed and Loretta May phone each other to check on their dinner plans. “You feel like cooking tonight?” one friend will ask the other. Often, they said, the answer will be no and they’ll walk over to Grace Church to partake in a Vineyard winter tradition: the community supper.

“Camaraderie and the food is what brings us,” Ms. Speed said over Hungarian beef stew at the Edgartown Whaling Church, another community supper destination for the duo. “It makes the winter go by. Not a lot of other things going on.”

West Tisbury dinner Betsy VanLandingham
Betsy VanLandingham, Marjorie Peirce and Margaret Gallagher serve in West Tisbury. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“All the people work so hard and make it so good,” added Ms. May from across the table.

As cold winter days turn into colder winter evenings, community suppers offer comfort four nights a week for those hungry for a warm meal or companionship. While the dinners, held in four different towns, each have their own flavor, three common themes recur: friendship, a sense of community and a good warm meal.

On a recent Wednesday at the West Tisbury Congregational Church volunteers bustled about the kitchen serving food for a crowd that averages between 60 and 80 people, said Marian Irving, who was taking a break from kitchen duties. Cronig’s market provides meat for the dinner, like the 40 pounds of chicken baked, fried, and barbecued that night.

Natalie Evanson bread
Natalie Evanson, 3, of Oak Bluffs. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The Black Dog Bakery provides bread for the meal and the rest is provided, potluck style, by attendees. That Wednesday, the dinner assortment included a host of vegetable dishes from squash to peas, salads, a chicken calzone and vegetarian enchiladas.

The food “never goes to waste,” Ms. Irving added. Leftovers are packaged to take home and some is delivered to people who are ill or could not come to the dinner.

The church started hosting the suppers “to provide food for people who might be short of food,” said Susie Bowman, a church member and supper attendee. But the nights morphed into a community event that always provides “an opportunity for people who are on the lonely side or just want to get out and socialize.”

Church potluck meal
Chilmark Community Church potluck supper on Tuesday night. — Mark Alan Lovewell

At West Tisbury, as at the other churches, donation baskets are set out for those who want to contribute.

Several Vineyarders make the rounds at all of the different suppers. Regulars note that each night has a different feel and also acknowledge having preferences about which serves the best food, not that they’ll make their preferences public.

Stephanie Brothers, a West Tisbury resident, said she attends several of the dinners with her daughter, Annabelle. Fridays at Grace Community Church, where Ms. Brothers is a parishioner, are “friendly, great food, like a community.” The Grace Church dinners are potluck style, with parishioners signing up to bring desserts, sides, and soups.

potluck Bob Clermont soup
Bob Clermont serves soup at Old Whaling Church. — Mark Alan Lovewell

At Chilmark Church, “There’s a whole different group,” she continued, and dinner guests play Bananagrams after dinner. Members like Pam Goff provide homecooked food for the meal and some regulars bring dishes as well. At Tuesday’s dinner, Ms. Goff recalled a 95-year-old guest bringing a steak.

During the spring and fall the menu at the Chilmark Church switches to pizza, which tends to draw a younger crowd with families and “kids running around outside,” Mrs. Goff continued. In the summer the church sells lobster rolls on Tuesdays. “There’s always something to eat Tuesday nights at Chilmark Church.”

Back at West Tisbury, people chatted, catching up on news, and laughing about pets. The crowd varied from the young — Annabelle helped clear plates — to those who are community supper veterans. One dessert had the room buzzing: chocolate-covered potato chips.

The suppers are a good way to keep in touch with people during “the long, cold winter,” said Cynthia Schilling, a Vineyard Haven resident, who said she’s been attending the community suppers for about two years. She sat with her boyfriend, Aquinnah resident Gerald Jeffers.

Some of the patrons broke into a game of BananaGrams. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Mr. Jeffers and Ms. Schilling were on hand the following Monday in Edgartown where a smaller crowd traveled through the slush to the Baylies Room at the Old Whaling Church. Stop and Shop donates ready-to-expire food to the weekly Monday dinners and the Rotary Club pitches in to host the dinner once a month. On the other evenings, Karen Rego and a team of volunteers prepare the meal.

Last Monday, Rotary volunteers served a Hungarian beef goulash prepared by Jarda Kral, with noodles, mashed potatoes, soup, salad, and a dessert table featuring several cakes. Eggs and produce lined the back wall, ready to be taken home.

“Hunger is a real problem on this Island,” said Liz Villard, a parishioner and Rotary member who added that she’s become a “professional maker of strange soups.” Monday’s offering was turkey and root vegetable with an avocado base.

First-time attendee Collin Evanson said he’d just heard about the dinner from a colleague.

“I don’t have to cook tonight,” he said, while encouraging his daughter Natalie, age 3, to eat some more of her dinner so she could have some cake. As a single dad, “any meal is appreciated,” he said.

Connie Teixeira has worked on behalf of the Island’s homeless but said she didn’t see many of this population in the room of about 80 people at the Edgartown supper. “Dinner’s the lonely meal,” she said. However, “The meals give people a chance to interact and it gives people an opportunity to have a hot meal.”

At Mrs. Teixeira’s table, which included her husband, Antonio, Pat Matola, Lucy Munafo, and Lorraine Huffman, friendship was evident as the group laughed and talked.

Senior citizens “want to get out of the house,” said Ms. Munafo, who lives at Woodside Village with Ms. Matola and Ms. Huffman.

“It beats the barroom,” joked Ms. Matola.


Community suppers take place Mondays at 5 p.m. in the Baylies Room of the Old Whaling Church, Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. at Chilmark Church (pizza dinners in the spring and fall are at 6 p.m.), Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at West Tisbury Congregational Church, and Fridays at 5 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven.