Reviewing Project Soup

As one who has both eaten at served at many soup kitchens, food pantries, and shelters, I understand how humbling it can be scratching and surviving through the food pantry system. You may be in a situation that is not your fault, and you may be in a predicament where you simply need help finding a place of dignity even though you feel you have failed in one area or another. This series and this piece will review various pantries, shelters and soup kitchens around the Boston area. Our aim is to give you a sense of the network of pantries, describing and evaluating each location on its merits. We seek to build up kitchens, pantries, and shelters that are as hospitable as possible—places that build people up and help them get back on their feet by establishing lasting relationships and opening up safe, responsible spaces.

It has been stated statistically that Somerville holds the highest population per capita throughout New England. Many different backgrounds diversify the city from Brazilian and Haitian immigrating, to first second and third generation Irish and Italian. Statistically the highest rate of people being below the poverty level are Black or African American and Hispanic/Latino families that are single and parenting children , mostly women in mid years. This study was taken as of 2009 after the economic shift and it seems to be rising among all groups. With this said it is safe to say that there needs to be better and more pantries like Project Soup.

Project Soup is a soup kitchen located in the residential and industrial side of the newly revitalized Somerville, intended specifically for residents of Somerville. You will get the feeling that this neighborhood is not only struggling from these economic times, but is also trying its very hardest to survive them. Somerville is a town with a long, proud history, and the people are working to reclaim that history.

Project Soup is located in East Somerville, which borders Charlestown. It is between Highland Avenue near Union Square and Broadway in The Winter Hill section near Foss Park. It is conveniently located close to the library. A Spanish-language AA meeting takes place nearby and there is a shelter on the corner of Pearl Street and Cross Street. The pantry is in the basement of St. Benedict Catholic Church, at 15 Franklin Street.

The location is one of Project Soup’s greatest strengths. Though it is not on a main street, its placement between Union and Highland Avenue means it is easily accessible to people from both East and West Somerville. Its proximity to Foss Park means that is adjacent to several bus stops and is close to Sullivan Square on the Orange Line.

The building itself is small and in need of renovation. It is generally less welcoming in its physical condition than one would like. Nevertheless, it is well maintained on the inside—clean and functional.

Visitors to Project Soup enter from the back of the church. You will see a picket sign staked in the ground indicating the entrance. Upon entering, a staff person will ask for identification and whether you are a resident of Somerville. It is not clear at first blush whether Project Soup is a soup kitchen, food pantry, or shelter. Those in need of shelter or hot food should look elsewhere, as Project Soup only distributes canned and packaged food for takeaway.

The staff person will then show you to the non-perishable goods tubs. One strength of Project Soup is the variety of canned and packaged foods. Name brands, such as Campbell’s Soup, are available alongside generic brands. The staff person was generous with his time and will help you sort out your selections.

One downside to Project Soup is the fact that there is only one staff person present at a time. It is difficult to establish a relationship when there is not a significant staff presence. Practically speaking, if more than a handful of people had need of Project Soup, there would be a staff shortage fairly quickly.

Project Soup is open Monday, Tuesday, and Friday 10AM-2PM, Wednesday 12 noon – 4 PM, Thursday 1-4, and Saturday 9AM-12 noon. The hours are not as consistent as one would like—though Project Soup is generally open during the lunch hours, which makes sense, the opening and closing times are not the same every day. Therefore those who depend upon Project Soup for a regular food provision schedule will be disappointed.

Project Soup is a development of the Somerville Homeless Coalition, which is a network of social service providers in Somerville. This relationship to SHC is a strength of Project Soup, as people around Somerville know about the coalition and place their trust in it. It is a good service with many resources for those who find themselves in need.

For additional information call the Somerville Homeless Coalition at
617-776-7687, or go to somervillehomelesscoalition.org.

—Joseph Agliata

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