By Zhihong Li
Downstairs at the basement near the Church of the Covenant on Newbury Street, Karen Write walks into the dining hall of The Women’s Lunch Place, where she has her meals every week. Write remembers the days when she first moved to Boston in 2007. She couldn’t get a bed at any local shelter and came to The Women’s Lunch Place for help.
“When I was living on the street, I tried to come here every day because I can get meals, get showers and get good rests,” Write said.
Write has moved in a shelter but still visits the Place occasionally to chat with the women she knows here, she added.
Like Write, around 150 women come to The Women’s Lunch Place every day during its opening hours from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday. They range in age from 35 to 65 covering all ethnicities including Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. Some 40 percent of them are homeless, and others are seniors, unemployed or people with disabilities, Elizabeth Keeley said. Keeley has worked for the Place for almost two years as its executive director.
“On one Saturday when I worked here, I saw we served 380 meals that day,” Keeley said.
Two women, Jane Alexander and Eileen Reilly, started The Women’s Lunch Place in 1982. Since then, it has developed from a lunch-only pantry to a nonprofit service center providing not only breakfasts and lunches but also shower rooms, a computer center, a small library, art programs, yoga classes and a health care department.
Sharon Riddick, who lives in the Pine Street Inn, comes to The Women’s Lunch Place four or five times a week for breakfasts. She said she likes the toast, fruit and yogurt in the Place.
“They have many sources. They let you feel that you’re a human, and they know every aspect that women need,” Riddick added. Keeley said trying to meet all clients’ needs is her goal.
“Some women here are very talented,” Keeley said, pointing to the portrait paintings on the wall. The creative art program is a way to empower the women to find their interest and to build up their confidence, Keeley added.
“It’s great. It’s relaxing and you can just do some watercolor painting and all kinds of graphics. It’s wonderful that sometimes you can do something connected to holidays, then you can have a gift,” said Madeline Venetsky, a client who often participates in the painting program.
The Women’s Lunch Place also provides a health care services department. Some physicians, like Dr. Roseanna Means, come to visit four times a week and some from Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program come one day a week. The clients can consult with the doctors about their health issues. However, Keeley noted that compared with physical health care, the women need mental health care more. Mental health workers visit twice a week to talk with the clients. The clients can also take the stress-reduction class and meditation class to learn how to heal themselves.
Keeley said some of the women are homeless, some just fled from violent relationships, and some suffered from physical or emotional trauma.
“If you live on the street, it’s not easy. It can be scary and unsafe, and with that comes some issues around paranoia and being fearful. That can feed in all sorts of psychological and mental illnesses,” Keeley explained. The Women’s Lunch Place provides a space for homeless women to get help for body and mind.