Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Women's Lunch Place, Boston, MA

One of the first programs we visited, the Women's Lunch Place is a wonderful example of a day shelter and feeding program for poor and homeless women and their children.  It is located in a church in the heart of downtown Boston and is open from 7 AM to 2 PM six days a week.  Lauren Reilly (Director of Development, shown on the left below), Sharon Reilly (Executive Director), and Linda Burston (Support Coordinator) hosted our visit and gave us a tour.

Not only are guests offered a safe, warm environment and nutritious breakfast and lunch (served restaurant-style by volunteers), but they are also offered a very large set of other services, such as:
  • Medical and mental health services 5 days a week, provided by physicians and psychiatrists who donate their time.  We were told that common medical problems are diabetes and exposure-related conditions such as frostbite, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, cuts on hands and feet, and other conditions caused by living on the streets.
  • A reading room with comfortable chairs and lots of books for the guests to take, read, and return.  Since many of the guests are big readers, they're planning a book club, too.
  • A nap room with 6 beds, a favorite spot for women who may have been awake all night.
  • A shower room, complete with personal care items and robes for women who may be washing their clothing in the nearby laundry machines.
  • A resource room, which housed mail slots for any guests who wanted to use the Women's Lunch Place as an address to receive surface mail, 3 computers, phones with voicemail boxes so guests can receive private voice messages, a message board, and resource manuals for other services guests may need.
  • A community room with toys for kids.  Knitting, crocheting, and art classes were also held here.
  • A "closet" where women could get clothing and personal care items.  
Probably most impressive of all is the sense that the Women's Lunch Place is a close community.  Guests appeared relaxed and at home here.  The staff and volunteers run a variety of programs, such as field trips to the movies, duck boat trips, or picnics at a donor's home on the North shore.  They said they celebrate "all holidays known to man."  Once a month, they have a birthday party for all those with birthdays that month.  The day we visited happened to be the August birthday celebration, and we were given the honor of helping with the beautiful cake (that had been donated by a local bakery) and handing out gifts.

Boston is truly fortunate to have the Women's Lunch Place, with its dedicated, focused staff and volunteers, providing this resource for our neediest women.  Like all such programs, they depend heavily on volunteers and donations, and could use YOUR contributions, too.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Greater Boston Food Bank

How does food get to people in need?  One major link is the system of 203 food banks across the U.S.

The Greater Boston Food Bank in Boston, MA (pictured here) is the 7th largest in the U.S.  In one year, it distributes over 30 million pounds of food and other grocery products to about 600 member programs (e.g., feeding programs and food pantries) in eastern Massachusetts.  In the U.S overall, there are over 200 food banks annually distributing about 2.5 billion pounds of food and grocery products.

QUESTION: Does anyone know how that compares to the size of the system of distributing NON-emergency food, that is, all the regular sources of food, such as grocery stores?

A small proportion of the food distributed by GBFB consists of miscellaneous food and other items donated by grocery stores and other sources.  Betsy and Carolyn volunteered along with a group of students to help sort some of this food on 8/28/2009.  Our job was to pick out items of a specific category from a large conveyor belt, check to make sure they were not damaged or past their expiration date, and load them into boxes that food pantries could then purchase for a nominal amount.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Acton Community Supper Food Pantry

The Acton Community Supper Food Pantry in Acton, MA, was our introduction to the dedicated people who provide groceries to those in need.  Formerly, this food pantry distributed prepackaged bags of groceries to clients.  Now they have larger facilities on the ground floor of St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Acton, so there is enough space to allow clients to shop for the food items they can use.  This choice system has been enthusiastically received by clients.

QUESTION:  I wonder how many food pantries use a shopping model vs. distributing prepackaged bags of food... 

Where does the food come from that the pantry offers?  Director Kathy Casaletto told us that the largest portion comes from the Greater Boston Food Bank.  Food from government programs is generally free, while other food may cost something like $0.19 a pound.  Other sources of food include
  • contributions from local supermarkets, bakeries, fish markets, and farms
  • local food drives and miscellaneous contributions 
  • bulk purchases made with donated funds