Fish for Families --- helping our neighbors, meal by meal
By Doreen Leggett
Tom Bayuk has been a chef on the Cape for decades, but last month, for the first time, he got to cook a “beautiful” fish he never heard of: dogfish. He minced and sautéed celery, onions, carrots, garlic and added ginger and served the white fish at the Faith Neighborhood Kitchen, which provides meals to folks in need.
“We are feeding homeless people who never eat fresh fish and they loved it,” said Bayuk, with a warmth and enthusiasm that colors all his conversations.
Even better, just days later he was introduced to a local fisherman by a mutual friend.
“What do you fish for?” Bayuk remembers asking.
“Dogfish,” was the reply.
It turns out this Chatham fisherman had caught the dogfish that made it possible for Bayuk to put the meals on tables at the Hyannis non-profit. Bayuk is a huge supporter of the Fish for Families program because of the connections it creates and the good it fosters.
Fish for Families was created by The Cape Cod Fishermen’s Alliance in 2013 to help an increasing number of year-round residents struggling to make ends meet in a region with a seasonal economy, relatively low wages and a high cost of living. The program provides seafood to families in need, while supporting Cape Cod fishermen and promoting local species, locally caught.
Now the program needs to grow. The goal is to purchase 10,000 pounds of sustainable fish, expanding multiple distributions to needy families, using what is called the Cape Cod Hunger Network. Participating Hunger Network partners include food pantries, homeless shelters, AIDS support groups and others.
New funding will be used to purchase, process and deliver locally caught fish. The fish costs the program an average of $3 a pound to get from the water to the table, and includes local species such as skate, monkfish and mackerel. It is distributed free to those in need.
Bayuk didn’t get involved because he heard of the program – the Alliance reached out to him. Now he is hooked; he wants more fish.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said, “just to be a part of it.”
Last year the program served close to 9,200 people on the mid and lower Cape and another 4,460 people on the Upper Cape. Hunger Network participants helping with distribution include, but are not limited to: The Falmouth Service Center, The Lower Cape Outreach Council, Hands of Hope Outreach Center, AIDS Support Group, Bourne Friends Food Pantry, Wellfleet Pantry at Grace Church, Christ the King Church, St. Vincent De Paul Food Pantry, St. Joan of Arc and the Waypoint Academy.
Since 2013, the Fish for Families program has served nearly 110,000 six-ounce servings of locally caught seafood, including seven species, totaling more than 41,000 pounds of fish. The program spends about 66 percent of the budget on fish. The fish costs include payment to the fishermen, trucking, processing, freezing and special packaging in family-sized bags.
Bayuck sees more than the numbers. He sees individuals and families. For example, there is one little girl who comes for dinner at the Faith Neighborhood Kitchen and always wants a hot dog. He’ll tease her about it – how is he cooking this great meal and she wants processed food – still, he’ll do a dog.
But the last time she was in, her mom, also a picky eater, loved the new kind of dog -- dogfish. He’s hoping to get a convert in the next generation soon.
“I feel honored to serve these people fresh fish,” he said. “It’s rewarding to help the community, to be part of the solution.”