John Lytle flips some burgers for the MESH guests in the kitchen at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair. Lytle said meals are always different and guests are served an appetizer, soup and salad, entrée and dessert. COURTESY JOHN LYTLE


John Lytle, 64, of Montclair, volunteers an average of three hours a week on Wednesdays for Montclair Emergency Services for the Homeless. Lytle has been a MESH volunteer for seven and half years.

In this series, we highlight a hometown person who has given freely of their time and effort to help people, animals or the environment. To suggest a person or an organization for this series, email and

John Lytle

What inspires you to volunteer?
The people here are thankful. I directly help dozens of people every week. When I’m out [in Montclair] sometimes a person will shout “Hi John” and it’s a regular of MESH. Helping at MESH keeps me grounded in what effect it has on my life and hope it has that effect on my family.  

How did you get involved with MESH?
My friend Peter volunteers and asked me to help out. His daughter is my daughter’s friend, and they help as well.

What are some of your volunteering duties?
I cook. I also take photos of the efforts each week and the performances at MESH. I’m on the MESH Leadership Committee. I also help figure out what the components to the meal should be. I do kitchen work such as cleaning. Sometimes I’ll run orientation for new volunteers. I organize the pantry. Teach people how to use the dish sanitizer.

What have you learned while volunteering?
I learned to do chicken teriyaki for over 70 people. Learned to cook well for a large group. On average there is about 50 people. It’s heartbreaking sometimes when you see two to three kids; it’s common to have three children.

What’s your favorite part of volunteering?
I enjoy cooking. Once I started doing it, I found it to be one of the things I like the most of my life. There is a satisfaction that we make a difference with the guests. The guests love us.

What’s the most difficult part?
One time the dishwasher broke down, we usually use real plates and real silverware, it makes a difference. Making sure there’s always a vegetarian option; about 10 percent guests request it. We always have about 10 to 12 servings. Sometimes there are last-minute problems, for example needing more food, but we always find a way to solve them. It’s very much a team effort. Thanksgiving is complicated.

How do you feel at the end of a day after you volunteered?
Like I accomplished something important. Someone will leave here with leftovers and say, “Thanks, it was a great meal.” They are as thankful or more thankful than my own family.

How does your family feel about your volunteering service?
My wife, Patricia, helps clean up frequently at the end of the night. My daughter, Jade, is mostly a server. Servers go to each table and take beverage orders.

What do you do on your free time outside of volunteering?
Remodel my house.

Do you do other volunteerism?
Not anymore. About eight years ago, I was assistant coach and team manager when my oldest daughter was in soccer for about seven years.

What was your occupation?
I am semi-retired. I used to be a software developer.

Organizations to help those in need

Montclair Emergency Services for the Homeless
MESH, Inc. P.O. Box 1919, Montclair, NJ 07042-1919
Telephone: 862-621-9488

See website for calendar. Dinner is served at 7:15 p.m. every day but Sundays.
Operates out of local church kitchens.

Toni’s Kitchen
St Luke’s Episcopal Church

73 South Fullerton Ave., Montclair
Contact:  973-932-0768 or email
Meal Schedule: Lunch Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m.; Sunday dinner at 5 p.m.

See related story on Toni’s Kitchen at JANA JOYCE CREATES MORE THAN JUST MEALS.

Human Needs Food Pantry
9 Label St., Montclair
Contact: 973-746-4669  or email
Donation Drop offs: Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon
Client pick-up noon to 2:30 p.m. and Thursday nights from 5:30-6:30.