Women’s Lunch Place (WLP), a day shelter providing essential items, meals, and services to women experiencing homelessness and poverty, has received a grant through the Cummings Foundation’s $20 Million Grant Program to help continue its work in the community.
WLP was one of 130 nonprofits chosen from a pool of 738 applicants for the grant, and Executive Director Jennifer Hanlon Wigon said that this is not the first time the Cummings Foundation has awarded money to WLP. The organization has been awarded the “$100,000 for 100” grant, which is $100,000 to 100 nonprofits over three years, “but we are eligible for the 10 year sustaining grant which would be $300,000 over 10 years,” she said.
Hanlon Wigon said the money will be used to fund WLP’s Outreach Advocacy Initiative, which has kicked into overdrive since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
WLP’s traditional program is offered in their space on Newbury Street, where women come in and sit down for a home cooked meal on real china, as well as get support for things like housing stabilization and eviction prevention, COVID-19 educational materials, and advocacy/case management including legal aid. But the virus has forced the nonprofit to change the way these services are offered to keep everyone safe and healthy.
Halon Wigon said that WLP’s outreach advocates are “developing relationships; they’re going out into the community where our guests are” and “engaging them in advocacy services.”
She shared a story of one of WLP’s long-term guests who lived on the street and had untreated mental health disorders. “Every day, six days a week she would come and be in our community,” Hanlon Wigon said. “One of our outreach advocates started to engage and develop a relationship over time.”
One day, the woman fell ill with a serious health issue, and WLP was able to help get her hospitalized and help address her mental health issues. “Our advocate was able to truly pull resources together across the medical and services community where she would have fallen through the cracks,” Hanlon Wigon said. “She would have been released from the hospital with no support.”
Hanlon Wigon said the woman is now living with a family member and is receiving treatments for her mental health. “She looks so good,” she said, and still visits the shelter.
Another guest was living outside in the back alley, and an outreach advocate kept going out to talk to her, asking her if she wanted to come inside for a cup of coffee. After declining several times, she agreed to come inside for a meal, and eventually, she agreed to be connected with support services,” Hanlon Wigon said. Now, the woman is living in Pine Street Inn supportive housing.
WLP’s “inside out” model that has been used since COVID-19 has taken some getting used to, Hanlon Wigon said. “By having advocates out in the field more, the needs were so much greater than we recognized,” she said.
Moving from real silverware and fine china to takeout boxes was another big change for the nonprofit.
“WLP is not just a soup kitchen” Halon Wigon said. “We have beautiful, nutritious meals that we serve. We believe that access to good, healthy, nutrition is not the purview of the wealthy and everybody should have that.”
The takeout meals are served outside, where prepared breakfasts, lunches, drinks, and snacks are available for the women, totaling about 180 meals a day. All direct care services such as clothing, toiletries, sunblock, water bottles, and PPE like masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer are also all available outside.
Outreach advocates continue to call their clients and visit them off-site, Hanlon Wigon said.
For the first time, WLP is also offering pantry boxes for elders and shut-ins, and has networked with programs in the City to be able to gather and deliver over 700 meals a week to scattered site housing for women who are homeless but living in a temporary shelter.
“With the pantry boxes,” Hanlon Wigon said, things like milk, eggs, poultry, and beans can be delivered for people to “prepare their own meals with. Our chef is even looking to develop recipes to include with them.”
The boxes can be tailored for recipients, such as if a family has kids or if someone has diabetes and has dietary restrictions. “We’re trying to understand out guest’s needs and their ability to access food that will support their health,” Hanlon Wigon said. “We’re really providing services in ways that we never thought before.”
These new services are expected to continue after the pandemic, and WLP hopes to expand partnerships with organizations across the city so they can reach even more people with their services.
“All that costs money,” she said. “There are significant expenses but we’ve been trying to partner and get funding where we can. We never realized how expensive the takeout process was.”
She said in a statement that WLP is “grateful for the Cummings Foundation’s investment to support innovative programming for women experiencing hunger, poverty and homelessness and we are honored to be among the community of human service agencies they recognize as essential to providing dignity and security for our most vulnerable women.”