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August 26, 2023 19 mins
The Bristol Lodge Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry in Waltham got an eviction notice recently - and it's forcing them to leave their long-time quarters very quickly. Trouble is, they don't have anywhere to go yet, and the Middlesex Human Service Agency needs your help to find a space for them to set up shop so they can keep serving people in need all over the Boston area. CEO Robert Mills joins Nichole this week to talk about the eviction, the services they provide, and how you can help the soup kitchen and food pantry find a new home.
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Episode Transcript

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From WBZ News Radio in Boston.This is New England Weekend where each week
we come together we talk about allthe topics important to you and the place
where you live. It's so goodto be back with you again this week.
I'm Nicole Davis. For many yearsnow in Waltham, the Bristol Lodge
soup kitchen and food pantry has beena refuge for people in need. The
program is operated by Middlesex Human ServiceAgency, one of the many they offer

to help nourish and shelter anybody whoneeds it. We're talking about single parents,
seniors, young families, people whoare sick. It goes on and
on. However, these days thepantry is finding itself in jeopardy as recently
it got an eviction notice with ahard deadline. Now the search is on
to find a new home for thosesoup kitchen and the pantry. So let's
talk about it with CEO Robert Mills. Bob, it's great to have you

here on the show. Now we'llget into the situation with the pantry in
just a second, but first let'sstart with this. Tell us a bit
more about your group submission and whatyou work to do. Sure, so
our mission statement most simply is tohelp people return to independence. We do
that in three primary areas. Weprovide a lot of residential services, providing

addiction treatment and also housing folks whoare unhoused and helping them ultimately find permanent,
affordable housing. And then we alsohave our food programs, which include
our soup kitchen and food pantry,as well as a monthly outdoor farmers markets
that type of program. You've beendoing this for quite some times, from
what I see, you've been atthis since about the late seventies. Now,

yeah, Middlesex Human Services itself actuallytraces its roots back to nineteen seventy
eight. But some of the programswe run, like our soup kitchen,
for example, actually predate the agency. They came to us as the agency
formed, and other organizations came tous for economy of scale and so forth.
So, to be honest with you, when it comes to our soup

kitchen, we have lost the exactstart date to history, but it was
somewhere in the seventies. All thatmatters is that it's there and it's been
helping a lot of people. Sodo you mostly help people around the city
of Boston or is this a metroWest thing, like, where is your
area of focus here? Sure,we have our corporate headquarters in Waltham,
where we also have five of ourprograms, actually would be eight if I

counted all the food programs separately.And then we have a program up in
Tewkesbury on the campus of the TewkesburyState Hospital. And then we have quite
a few facilities in the city ofBoston, ranging from staffed residential programs to
apartments that we place people in.So it's really those three cities we're working

in. Wow, Okay, stillpretty impactful stuff. And we'll talk a
bit more about the individual programs herein a few minutes. But the big
situation here is involving your Bristol LodgeSoup kitchen. This is over in Waltham,
and from what I'm seeing here,you've got some pretty big and not
good news what's going on here.So we just found out about a week

and a half ago now that weare going to have to vacate our present
location by October fifteenth, which operationallyfor that for us, really means October
thirteenth. This is something that didnot come as a complete surprise to us.
We had been in talks with ourlandlord there, and we knew that
they might have some changes coming thatbasically come down to changes in the real

estate state market. A lot ofchurches are seeing declining attendance, I guess,
and so this some consolidation and remodelingthat is going on. So they
did let us know that they aregoing to be expanding their services in the
current location and we'll need the spacethat we currently use. So it didn't
come as a complete surprise. Wehad been doing some work to try to

find a location, but obviously nowwith a deadline, we are searching in
Earnest for a new location. Ican imagine and tell us a little bit
about what exactly happens in your organizationat the church, because it's a soup
kitchen, but you need to cook, you need to serve. You know,
there's a lot that goes on there. There is. Unfortunately, you
know, the program has been throughmany changes over the years. We've been

in different locations at different times,so it's a program that is used to
some transitions periodically. We haven't hadto move a location in eighteen years now.
But one of the things that didhappen during the pandemic is we had
to really take a look at howwe provided our services in order to meet
all of the safety protocols that werein place of the time. So,
prior to the pandemic, our soupkitchen was seven days a week and operated

from about two thirty in the afternoonto about six in the evening. But
we couldn't continue to do it thatway during the pandemic, so we had
ended up going to a Monday throughFriday model where we have meals available for
pickup to go. On Friday,people take extra meals so they have meals
for the weekend. So that hasreally kind of changed our space requirement.

We no longer need a full kitchenor the amount of space we had for
dining. Our cooking is all doneoff site and we have been incredibly fortunate
to have an amazing group of volunteersthat provide the meals for this program.
We have I think about fifty differentvolunteer groups that most do you know a
night, one night a month orevery other month or something like that.

Most of the groups prepare meals offsite elsewhere and then bring the meals to
us either already packaged to go orready for our staff to package it up
to go, so the cooking reallyis not an issue. And in the
rare instances where something happens and agroup can't provide a meal, we have
backup plans that, you know,even on an hour's notice or something like

that, we make sure we havesomething ready to go for the folks.
Wow, and how many people areyou serving with these to go and take
out meals? I've said the averageis about forty people a day. It
varies thirty five to forty five.During the pandemic, of course, we
saw higher numbers. We did seeup to one hundred people a day at
some points during that and that's thatOne of the things that's really important to

us is that it's not about thenumber of people we serve each day,
but really about being there for peoplewhen they need us. You know,
there are some folks that need uson on a regular basis, but there
are others that are going to needus just because of a temporary change in
circumstance. We saw a lot offolks during the pandemic who were temporarily out
of work. We also do seea lot of folks who are working but

just struggling to make ends meet,and you'd be surprised how many people you
know, have to get a newmedication or something, and that that cost
of that medication is enough to makefood a little tight, and they come
to us for a while to beable to get some help. So,
you know, we really have tojust make sure we are there and available
for whoever needs us when they needus. And I think too, the

fact that inflation is still so incrediblyhigh and the economy on paper looks like
it's doing really well, but onthe streets that's completely different. I'm sure
what you see your food pantry thatI'm assuming that that's the case. Oh.
Absolutely, We've heard a lot ofstories about wages going up for folks
but not keeping up necessarily with theinflation and the cost of their actual products

and living and so forth. Soyes, it's definitely been a tough time
out there for a lot of folks. Yeah, it has, all right.
So then you're looking for a newplace to go, and the big
question is do you want to stayin Waltham? Do you want to stay?
You know, how far are youwilling to move? What are you
looking for here? Well, ideallywe would like to stay in Waltham because

that's where we've been all these yearsand where the folks that we're serving are
and so forth. Really the toppriority for us and staying in Wallfam is
to find something convenient to public transportation. You know, we're lucky enough that
we have not only buses but thecommuter rail in town, So we're looking
to really be along that area sothat people can easily get to us because

obviously a lot of the people thatneed our services also don't have their own
vehicle and so forth. So that'sour top priority is making sure we are
accessible along those lines. Handicap accessiblespace would be something we would very much
be interested in, but we couldwork around that if need be. Our
current space is not handicap accessible,and we make sure that, you know,

if someone who couldn't get into theprogram needs food, we will meet
them out on the sidewalk and bringthe food out to them and so forth,
so no one goes unserved. ButI think those are really our biggest
items. Beyond that, we don'tneed a big space. We are looking
for a space that would be bigenough to set up some shelving for our
weekly food pantry and some tables forfolks to come through and be able to

pick up foods much smaller space thanwe're currently in, we'll work for us.
So we reached out to some ofthe groups that had hosted us in
the past to see if a returnto any of those locations might be a
possibility. Unfortunately, that has notworked out so far because of changes in
use of the buildings and renovations andthings like that. But we didn't have

a firm deadline or know when thiswould come. We didn't go too far
in a general outreach to the community. But now that we do have a
hard deadline here, we're really tryingto get the word out to anyone because
you know, historically we've worked withfaith organizations and civic organizations, but you
know, we know there could bean individual or a business owner out there

who might have some ideas, andwe are frankly open to anything that folks
might be able to suggest to us. Hey, Waltam is a bustling community.
There's a lot of great people there. I'm sure that there's going to
be able. A solution will finditself one way or the other. So
we'll talk about how people can getahold of you here in a few minutes.
But I do really want to focuson the other programs you have,

because you're not just serving food atthe food pantry or the takeout meals.
You've also got this monthly mobile marketthat actually really intrigued me. Give us
a little bit more of an ideaof what's happening with that. Sure,
So that is actually a program ofthe Greater Boston Food Bank, and we
have partnered them for many years.They helped us with low cost food for
a lot of our programs, andthey approached us back in two and fifteen

and they showed us a map ofthe state and showed us where there were
some areas that they didn't feel thatthey were reaching enough people. And Waltham
happened to be right in the middleof one of those blank areas on the
map. So we of course saidwe would be glad to help with that,
and we were very fortunate. Thelandlord of our building where our corporate

headquarters is is Newton Johnson and theformerly Eastern States Insurance now World Insurance,
and he and his family had alwaysbeen very involved in folks who needed food
and with the Great Boston Food Bank. So when I mentioned this, opportunity
to him. He jumped without ahesitation, saying, let's do it right

here in our parking lot. Iwas really kind of surprised to hear someone
in the insurance business willing to inviteall kinds of you know, put people
onto their property during winter and thingslike that where folks could be at risk.
But he's a great risk manager,and when we addressed all of those
concerns. So the way that theprogram works is once a month on a

Saturday. It's the third Saturday ofeach month at fifty Prospects Street in Waltham,
the Greater Boston Food Bank comes witha truck with a liftgate and literally
drops palets of food in our parkinglot. We set up tables and tents
and so forth to be able todistribute that, and then people just come
in and get up to thirty twopounds of food per person. One of

the great thing about all of ourfood programs is none of them have any
kind of income verification, no proofof need. If you show up and
tell us you're in need of somefood, we're going to help you out.
That's great. And I think thereis, of course that stigma I've
spoken about this a few times onthe show, but I think there is
aga there that a lot of peopleare like, oh, I don't want
to go to the church and likegrab a box, and people are going

to know, Look, if youneed food, if your kids need food,
this is definitely the place to bebecause nobody's going to judge you for
needing to feed yourself or your children. Absolutely not. And you know,
at the mobile market we typically seearound a hundred families a month. Again,
during the pandemic that jumped up significantly, we saw as many as three

hundred families a month at that time. But you're absolutely right, no stigma,
no judgment. We just want tomake sure that people have the food
they need. And I think alot of folks aren't fully aware of what
the need for food is in Massachusetts. That food and security is a very
real thing that affects about one inthree people in the state of Massachusetts.

And you know, I'm in thatbusiness and that number still just kind of
blows me away at times that thereare that many people who are just not
able to put enough food on theirtable. And we're very glad to be
able to offer a judgment freeway tomeet those needs, and honestly, you're
also helping when it comes to puttinga roof over their head as well,
because you offer shelter for families,not just permanent shelter, but also a

nightly shelter as well. Give usa bit of a rundown about your shelter
situation. Sure, So we havetwo shelters in Waltham, one for individual
men and one for individual women.Between those two facilities, we're able to
host up to fifty two people eachnight and provide shelter basically until we can

help them again find permanent affordable housing. In years past, finding housing for
individuals was very challenging, but thanksto a lot of new programs that the
state has put out that has reallybecome much more feasible solutions. So last
year we were able to place twentyseven individuals in the permanent affordable housing.

And that's just on the individual side. When it comes to families who are
experiencing homelessness, we have programs andlocations in Waltham and in Boston. The
biggest portion of it is in Bostonand the Dorchester area, and between all
of those sites we serve two hundredand sixty nine families a day. Many

of them are you know, havelong term Massachusetts residents dealing with you know,
single moms or changes in family situationor employment, things like that that
bring folks to us. But currently, as I show, you are aware,
there is a state of emergency declaredby our governor here in Massachusetts around

homelessness and migrants coming to Massachusetts,and we've also been part of that work
as well and are currently working withfifty families who are new to this country.
So it's it's very interesting and challengingwork, but very rewarding to see
people be able to take their familiesand move into their new permanent home after
some time with us, and it'sjust it's fabulous to be able to do

that and to be able to bringthese services together. So there have been
times where you know, we gettalking to a family at our mobile market
or any of our food programs andfind out they're also homeless, and we
get them connected with those services andjust try to provide the wrap around services
the best we can to help folksget back on their feet. And you're
doing great work too with families inrecovery. I noticed you have a family

Recovery program here in Dorchester at BrookfordHouse. This is specifically for maybe families
with young children or people just gettinginto sobriety and giving them again that's safe
shelter to get back on their feet. Absolutely, and we were thrilled to
be able to open that program lastyear. We've done individual addiction treatment for

many years, and when we foundout that the state had an RfR out
to help families where one or bothparents are in early recovery and also experiencing
homelessness and help them stabilize in theirrecovery, achieve long term recovery and permanent
housing, we just thought that thatreally was a perfect fit for our company

and overlap between the two things wealready do so much of. So we
are very happy to be able todo that and be one of the few
shelters in the state in that circumstancewho will take intact families and has the
space to do that. So wehave up to eighteen families in two buildings
that are side by side in Dorchesterand a great team of staff there that

help them not only work on theirrecovery and avoid all of the temptations that
can take them out of that,but also, you know, work with
the children to educate them and helpbreak that intergenerational cycle of addiction that can
happen, and while all while helpingthem search for housing, employment, education,
whatever other needs they might need tobe able to be an independent family

out there in the world someday.Bob, you have so much going on,
and I'm sure that all of theseincredible resources need an incredible amount of
support. This is kind of theway it is. Money. Money is
always a factor. So we'll getto the food, the soup kitchen and
food pantry and your search for anotherlocation in just a moment. But if
people have been listening and they say, I really want to make sure that

I can help support these shelter situationsor support the food pantry, the mobile
market, how can they get thatsupport to you? The easiest way is
just to go to our website atHSAI NC dot org and right there on
the homepage is a donate button.It's very easy. You can do one
time or recurring donations in any amount, and our website will also tell you

a lot more about all the programswe've been talking about and how to access
those services all right, and thenof course the search for a new home
for your food pantry, for thesoup kitchen as well. So one more
time, give us an idea.You're looking in Waltham, where can people?
Where should people be looking? Andhow can they get ahold of you?
So people should be thinking about somethinglong public transportation lines. It doesn't

have to be directly on main street, but walking distance from a bus or
train stop is ideal. And thenbeyond that reaching out to me. They
can reach me either by phone oremail. Phone is seven eight one eight
nine four six one one zero andI'm an extension one four zero zero,

or they can also email me atb m I l ls SO B Mills
at MHSA I NC dot org.And I would be glad to talk to
anyone who might have an idea ora way to help. No idea is
a bad idea, right, Let'sjust get you into a place where you
can set up shop for years andyears to come. Yep, the more

people thinking about this, the morelikely I think we are to come out
with a good resolution. We'll makeit happen, all right, Bob Mills
from the Middlesex Human Service Agency,such a great conversation. Thank you for
all you do for the community,and best of luck in finding a brand
new home. Thank you so much, I appreciate your time and helping us
get the word out. Have asafe and healthy weekend. Please join me
again next week for another edition ofthe show. I'm Nicole Davis from w

b ZY News Radio on iHeart Radio.
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