By Dahlia Snaiderman
East Boston’s food insecure and hungry population is growing. The cost of living has skyrocketed in the past ten years, leaving people with no choice but to live on the streets. Many of those who have managed to keep a roof overhead are still food insecure.
To try and alleviate this problem, two organizations are working to do what the Shaw’s and the bodegas can’t: find ways to get people fed for free, or cheaply emphasize quality as well as quantity.
The East Boston Community Soup Kitchen is a place of solace for the neighborhood’s large homeless population. Every Tuesday from breakfast to dinner, the multi-purpose room in the basement of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church bustles with over 20 volunteers cooking and serving healthy meals. One week, it might be vegan arroz con pollo, organic salad, and pastries and coffee. Another time, it can be rigatoni bolognese, with a side of vegetable soup, caesar salad, and dinner rolls.
On top of serving meals, at the back of the soup kitchen, Deivy Alcantara Gomez and Francis Emanuel of Happy Barbers on Meridian St. run a makeshift barbershop. They provide free haircuts to anyone who may need one. There’s also a place for people to shower, and a stack of canned goods up for grabs. The place radiates warmth, and it’s largely due to the efforts of one very energetic woman: Sandra Aleman-Nijjar.
Aleman-Nijjar started the soup kitchen two years ago, and from the beginning, she’s had the support and helping hands of another neighborhood food activist, Monica Leitner-Laserna. Each week, a different sponsor provides money, equipment, or ingredients for the volunteers to make the soup kitchen run. After dinner ends, Aleman-Nijjar posts a weekly Facebook status, thanking every person who helped make it happen.
On Mondays, just around the corner from the soup kitchen, you can find a bright green school bus parked right outside of Maverick Station. The bus is no longer filled with weathered leather benches- it’s lined with bins full of plantains, pears, bananas, and other produce. People wait outside for up to an hour to get their groceries done onboard.
The Fresh Truck accepts cash, debit, credit, and most importantly, EBT cards, meaning that people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can use their benefits to shop there. Thanks to the Healthy Incentives Program (sometimes called HIP or Bounty Bucks), whatever people buy at farmers markets or mobile markets like Fresh Truck is reimbursed to them, back onto their card, up to $80 for a family.
The podcast below shines a light onto the perspectives of those who use the soup kitchen and Fresh Truck, as well as some of the people who give their time and effort to make sure their community members stay fed and healthy.