Northampton volunteers step in to keep Saint Elizabeth soup kitchen going

@kate_ashworth
Published: 9/18/2017 12:24:31 AM

NORTHAMPTON — In the basement of St. John’s Episcopal Church on Elm Street last Thursday, people filled their plates with a hot meal of chicken pot pie, fresh fruit and vegetables.

The meal may not have been possible were it not for a group of volunteers who stepped up last month after Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish closed its Tuesday and Thursday meal program. Meals continue to be served on those days at St. John’s.

The meals are critical for people like Damaris Vazquez, a homeless woman who visits soup kitchens at various locations throughout the city. Without the program, the 43-year-old said she would have to take a bus to the Amherst Survival Center. She said the ride would take around two to three hours.

Vazquez, who lives in a tent with her boyfriend, said the money she gets through the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is minimal and every month she receives a $50 gift card to Stop & Shop from a local church. And she doesn’t panhandle, she said.

“You won’t see me doing that,” she said.

Six days a week, there’s a free meal provided somewhere in the city. Vazquez said she goes to each one and grabs a to-go box for a second meal.

“For some people, it’s the only meal they have,” said Robert Martinez, 38, a volunteer at Saint Elizabeth’s soup kitchen who is helping at the new location.

Martinez was homeless for 15 years. He said he relied on the free meals for years.

“I’ve been in their shoes,” he said. “Now I have a roof over my head.”

He wants to show people “you can do the same thing.”

Last month, Saint Elizabeth put its soup kitchen operation on hold due to code compliance issues at the building on Hawley Street and necessary permitting from the health department, according to Pastor Francis Reilly. The program has fed between 40 and 80 people at each meal since 2008.

Reilly said the parish might start the program back up again in the future.

Lee Anderson, treasurer of the nonprofit MANNA Soup Kitchen, which provides meals in the city, and volunteers from the parish’s soup kitchen stepped in to provide meals at St. John’s church at 48 Elm St. The meals are held Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon.

“There’s a need for meals,” Anderson said. “We need to muscle through it and do it.”

Anderson said the news of the new location spread by word of mouth. About 30 people came out for a free meal on Thursday.

“We’re going to keep going as long as we possibly can,” Anderson said.

While community members have made sure free meals remain available on Tuesday and Thursday, there’s still a need for meals on Friday. Anderson said MANNA has been looking into providing bag lunches on Fridays, but that plan is still in the works.

Free meals in Northampton:

♦ Monday, noon at St. John’s Church, 48 Elm St.

♦ Tuesday, noon, at St. John’s Church, 48 Elm St. 

♦ Wednesday, 6 p.m., at Edwards Church, 297 Main St.

♦ Thursday, noon, at St. John’s Church, 48 Elm St.

♦ Saturday, noon, at Edwards Church, 287 Main St.

♦ Sunday, 5 p.m., at First Churches of Northampton, 129 Main St.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.




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