NORTHEAST HARBOR—For the last decade, the Neighborhood House has been serving meals twice a month from November through April to anyone who wants one. This year, however, the lunch landscape has changed, and the once social outing has morphed into a carryout affair.
A temporary name change from Community Café to Carryout Café reflected the move, which is expected to last only for this one year.
Last fall, as members of the Neighborhood House team began planning its café menu, it was clear that the indoor lunch model would not work during a pandemic, said Neighborhood House Community Relations Director Matt Hart. The organization pivoted, worked with a smaller group of volunteers and began to plan a menu that would travel well. They hit a few roadblocks along the way, like difficulty procuring quality takeout containers but, in general, the worry was more about how people would react to a luncheon that didn’t have a social aspect, which had been a primary draw for attendees in the past.
“The meal has always been secondary,” said Hart, noting that while people do come for the food, they also come to interact with others.
On a typical week, pre-pandemic, the café saw anywhere between 100 and 150 people. Ages ranged from infants who came with stay-at-home parents to construction workers in town looking for a hot meal to retirees and seniors who wanted to socialize over a leisurely lunch.
“It has turned out better than expected,” explained Hart of the shift to carryout, and said that the organization is not only seeing new faces to the program but has seen an increase in participation. Now, more than 150 meals are leaving the Neighborhood House during each lunch event.
And while it is different in scope, some socialization does occur, said Hart, even if it is just for the few minutes that people are standing in a socially distant line waiting for their meal. “Even though we can’t socialize” in traditional ways, Hart said that, for many people, seeing familiar faces in the line and in the kitchen is good enough for now.
The Neighborhood House partners with local businesses and organization to execute each of its meals. This past week, it was staffers from Bar Harbor Bank & Trust that took the lead role. Lisa Parsons, the bank’s senior vice president and regional market manager for Mount Desert Island, also sits on the Neighborhood House board of directors. For her, the bank’s once-a-year sponsorship of a café luncheon is a win-win for both organizations.
Parsons said that employees of Bar Harbor Bank & Trust are encouraged to participate in community events. Whenever possible, the bank will also sponsor or directly contribute to events taking place in the community.
The Carryout Café will extend its normal schedule by one month and host meals the first and third Thursday of May as well. However, it will not hold its annual May barbeque, said Hart. In keeping with COVID-19 protocols, a takeout meal will be offered in its place.
The next Neighborhood House Carryout Café will take place on March 3 and will be sponsored by WMH Architects. Lunch will consist of chicken, broccoli and ziti casserole, salad, bread and homemade cookies.
Pickup note: There’s no need to call ahead when coming to grab your lunch. Service runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Enter through the main front door, proceed through the Great Hall and left towards the kitchen (the service window is the “takeout window”). When you exit, proceed down the hallway, through the secondary front door and down the ramp.
For more information visit theneighborhoodhouse.com.