The City of Cambridge announced Monday that it will extend its partnership program with local restaurants to provide meals to homeless residents until December 31.
The program began in March when the city contracted 15 restaurants to prepare boxed and bagged meals in response to staff shortages and reduced service capacity at shelters and meal providers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As of September 21, the city has spent nearly $500,000 contracting 50 restaurants to provide more than 2,800 meals per week, amounting to more than 70,000 meals since the program’s inception.
“As we move into the colder months of the year, and with the giving season upon us, the simple act of providing a warm meal for our unhoused residents perfectly illustrates the way the Cambridge community shows up for each other in a time of need,” Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said in a press release.
The Central Square Business Improvement District and the Harvard Square Business Association have worked with the city to identify restaurants in their district that can participate in the initiative. The city is inviting additional interested restaurants to contact its Purchasing Department.
Tthe partnership has also helped local businesses involved in preparing meals financially.
“Since March, our small businesses have been hurting. The homeless shelters meals program has been a lifeline to our local restaurants and an opportunity for them to help some of our most vulnerable here in Central Square,” said Michael Monestime, Executive Director of the Central Square BID, in a press release.
The meals are delivered to 16 shelters and meal programs that the city’s Department of Human Service Programs considers as having a “strong need” for meals.
The same operational challenges that many Cambridge homeless shelters faced in March will continue through this fall and winter. Harvard Square Homeless Shelter will remain closed indefinitely, while other shelters, like Y2Y, are able to house fewer people than they used to. Advocates have expressed concern that the city’s current housing measures, including the temporary shelter at the War Memorial Recreation Center, will not be enough to house all of Cambridge’s homeless population from the cold. Some are already providing sleeping bags to the homeless in anticipation.
Young Bae Kim, a volunteer for Loaves and Fishes — one of the recipients of the city’s meal program — said in the press release that the extension will allow the nonprofit to provide meals through the end of the year.
With this knowledge, Kim said, the organization will also be able to “continue other vital programs such as our holiday winter care package — a program where we provide a gift bag of hats, gloves, and other items to keep you warm.”
—Staff writer Jeromel Dela Rosa Lara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeromellara.