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City of Cambridge, Local Businesses Launch Programs to Feed Seniors and the Homeless Amid Pandemic

The Cambridge City Council convened to discuss COVID-19 protocols and other important city matters Monday evening.
The Cambridge City Council convened to discuss COVID-19 protocols and other important city matters Monday evening. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Simon J. Levien and Austin W. Li, Crimson Staff Writers

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and City Manager Louis A. DePasquale announced a pair of initiatives this weekend to support the city’s homeless and senior populations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting Monday, the city began preliminarily contracting restaurants in Central and Harvard Square to provide bagged or boxed meals for delivery to homeless shelters. Many Cambridge shelters are struggling to support the homeless populations they serve, suffering from staff and supply shortages.

The Harvard Square Business Association and Central Square Business Improvement District are working to identify restaurants to participate in the program.

Jeremy Warnick, a City of Cambridge spokesperson, called the initiative a “creative solution” to support struggling businesses and the vulnerable homeless population.

Siddiqui and DePasquale thanked HSBA and CSBID for their assistance in a joint statement Friday.

“By contracting with local restaurants in Central and Harvard Square, where a large majority of homeless programs are located, we are able to minimize delivery challenges, and facilitate the availability of both hot and cold meals to shelters and other sites in both Squares,” they wrote.

The two went on to implore residents for their aid amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a time to show that residents of Cambridge stand together, support those in need, and are a united community in the face of this unprecedented public health threat,” Siddiqui and DePasquale wrote.

As of yesterday, 15 local restaurants, including El Jefe’s Taqueria and Black Sheep Bagel Cafe, have signed on to the program. HSBA director Denise A. Jillson, who is coordinating efforts from Harvard Square businesses, said the Cambridge Savings Bank is providing beverages to homeless shelters as a part of the program.

Beneficiaries include the Y2Y shelter and the Thursday meal program at Christ Church Cambridge.

Erik Mass, director of sales at OTTO Pizza, which has a Harvard Square location participating in the city’s initiative, said the chain was open to a variety of solutions that could mitigate the situation.

“We just want to help the community,” he said. “We’re open to any ideas. You know, we’ll have to be creative. So whatever we can do, we will do.”

After this week, the city will look for restaurants beyond the two Squares for additional support.

Warnick said there is no long-run timeline for the program, but that the city hopes it “can be extended as long as possible.”

The city is also “aggressively looking” for temporary housing provisions for Cambridge’s homeless, particularly those showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, according to the press release. The city has set up a series of resources aimed at seniors and other Cambridge residents that may struggle with food insecurity. The provisions come after the indefinite closure of Cambridge senior centers and the Cambridge Council on Aging.

In partnership with Food for Free — a Cambridge nonprofit focused on food rescue — the city created the Cambridge Community Food Line. Residents — particularly seniors — at high risk of food insecurity can call the phone number for weekly deliveries of produce and grocery items.

Food for Free is currently enlisting volunteers to deliver food to residents. According to its executive director Sasha Purpura, 2,000 volunteers have already signed up to deliver food to roughly 500 needy individuals. Purpura said she expects the number of food-insecure residents partaking in the program to grow. All distributed food will be sourced from the Greater Boston Food Bank.

—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at simon.levien@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.

—Staff writer Austin W. Li can be reached at austin.li@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @austinwli.

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