Serving the Other Boca: Boca Helping Hands

Gary Peters of Boca Helping Hands (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

A soup kitchen continues to lend more than a helping hand

In 2005, Gary Peters had no intention of being more than a one-time donor to Boca Helping Hands. Fourteen years later, he’s the president of the board.

It all started in October of that year, when Hurricane Wilma smashed into Florida, killing 62 people and leaving Palm Beach County without power for two weeks. With stores closed and refrigerated and frozen foods rotting, Peters wondered how people were going to eat.

One of his employees mentioned that his wife volunteered at a soup kitchen called Boca Helping Hands, so he reached out to them. “They served warmed-up food and a very, very, very limited amount of food that they prepared,” Peters remembers. “I was able to reach the director, and I told her I would like to help her financially.”

Peters wrote Boca Helping Hands a check, pleased with himself for helping, and moved on. Later, someone from the charity organized a meeting with him, where he learned its headquarters were less than a mile from his Mizner Park office, that there was a major need for the soup kitchen in Palm Beach County, and that it needed to expand from its tiny 800-square-foot facility.

“Most people didn’t know there was a soup kitchen in Boca Raton,” Peters says. “I didn’t know it.”

DID YOU KNOW… Boca Helping Hands has given the community more than 6,000 bags of groceries.

Soon enough, Peters was asked to run the board, find a new building for Boca Helping Hands and facilitate the move. In January 2010, the Boca Helping Hands Remillard Family Resource Center opened, named for Arthur Remillard, who made it possible to buy the more-than-14,000-square-foot building.

When Peters first became involved, the nonprofit was only able to feed about 30 people per day a few days a week. When the Great Recession reached its peak, it was serving more than 250 meals a day. Today, Boca Helping Hands serves about 170 full meals a day six days a week, as well as grocery bag distributions. It has opened two additional distribution points in West Boca and Boynton Beach. Beyond food, the group has also introduced training for the community, such as wellness classes, life skills, ESOL and job training.

To make all these goals possible, dozens of volunteers are needed daily, as well as a steady flow of donors to fund these programs. The City of Boca Raton contributes $25,000 a year, and hundreds of people volunteer their time every week to sort and serve food and to keep the facility humming along. There are only 15 full-time employees at Boca Helping Hands.

“It’s super-rewarding to see where we came from to where we are,” Peters says. “It’s a job that needs to be done.”

This story is from the July/August 2019 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.