LYNN — The day before Thanksgiving, U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined state Sen. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn), state Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) and Mayor Thomas M. McGee on a visit to My Brother’s Table, the largest soup kitchen on the North Shore.
“Everything that I do in Washington is informed by what I learn in visits to cities like Lynn, the problems the families have, the crises the families are living through, my conversations with the local leaders who then give me my assignment in Washington to get them the help which they need in order to provide to everyone in their community,” said Markey. “That is why it is so important to us to pass the Build Back Better Bill. We have to get more help into these cities.”
Lynn is a good example of a community with a large immigrant population that was hit hard over the last couple of decades, Markey said. He praised the work of mayors but said that further progress is not possible without federal help.
“A vision without funding is a hallucination,” said Markey. “We have to get them the funding so that they have the ability then to provide the programs.”
The visit to My Brother’s Table illustrated for Markey how the COVID-19 pandemic led to an escalated need in social assistance among Americans. In 2019, My Brother’s Table provided 200,000 meals; in 2020, the number quadrupled to 800,000 meals, said Dianne Kuzia Hills, the soup kitchen’s executive director. She is expecting the organization to provide 900,000 to 1 million meals by the end of the year.
Kuzia Hills showed Markey around the dining hall, which was converted into a packing operation since all the meals are now served prepackaged and clients can choose what and how much of the food they would like to take. On the to-go menu during the day were sandwiches, soup, fruit, smoothies, and drinks. At dinner time, My Brother’s Table serves a hot, nutritious meal, like pasta with meat sauce and vegetables, dessert and a drink.
Markey inspected the contents of the paper bags with salami and cheese sandwiches and asked about the details of the operation. He also spoke with volunteers sorting the food items.
My Brother’s Table shares space with the grocery-delivery program of the New Lynn Coalition, which delivers groceries to households that are unable to travel to pick up grocery boxes from other food-aid programs or do not qualify for other local or state programs. Markey went through the fresh produce and household items that New Lynn Coalition (NLC) delivers and noted that it was all healthy, nutritious food.
Neil Whittredge, NLC food aid organizer, said that the coalition delivers groceries to 500 homes a month with the help of volunteer drivers.
Markey was impressed by the way the Lynn community came together in the face of food-insecurity issues, he said.
“People of Lynn always step up,” said Crighton. “It is a tradition in Lynn to give back.”
Ehrlich shared that her family volunteers at the soup kitchen sometimes, saying that My Brother’s Table is a special place.
“We are very appreciative of their work,” said Ehrlich.
On Thanksgiving, My Brother’s Table will be open 12-6 p.m. and will serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, greens and homemade cranberry sauce.
“(Our chef) had a pot going yesterday. It is amazing,” said Sue Ellen Woodcock, who works at My Brother’s Table.
Woodcock said that their clients make up a diverse mix of people who live in studio apartments with just a microwave, those who live on the streets, mothers with several small children, families, people with mental-health issues, and a lot of single, elderly men.
Kuzia Hills expects to feed 700 people at the kitchen on Thanksgiving, which is an average number for any given day. Some people pick up meals for group homes or senior housing residents. My Brother’s Table also delivers meals to homebound individuals.
“Thanksgiving is definitely a holiday when the light shines on the issues of domestic hunger and all the issues related to lack of nutrition,” said Kuzia Hills about the importance of Markey’s visit. “We’ve been around for such a long time that it’s sort of part of the fabric of life, so it is good to have that light shine once in a while on these issues, so that people realize that even though we live in a really affluent country, hunger is a real issue. People’s access to nutrition is kind of spotty, especially for low-income (individuals).”
My Brother’s Table is a privately-funded organization. It does not receive any federal, state or local aid, instead relying on individual donations, events and private grants and in-kind donations from supermarkets, restaurants, food drives, and individuals.
The organization could always use more volunteers, Kuzia Hills said, who can sign up on the website mybrotherstable.org or by calling the office at 781-595-3224. My Brother’s Table welcomes financial or in-kind donations from a wish list published on its website.
Most importantly, Kuzia Hills encourages everyone to learn more about domestic hunger, its causes and impact on people’s lives.