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Lynn soup kitchen expands services in response to COVID-19

By Gayla Cawley | March 17, 2020

LYNN — My Brother’s Table is extending its hours Tuesday in response to the coronavirus pandemic and its executive director Dianne Kuzia Hills is emphasizing that free meals are available to anyone regardless of income status. 

My Brother’s Table, which calls itself the largest soup kitchen on the North Shore, will begin to make free meals available by takeout only from 12 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday to anyone in need. A hot meal of corned beef and cabbage will be served at dinner for St. Patrick’s Day. 

Weekend “to-go” meals will be served from 2-4:30 p.m. and will include a hot meal and a bagged breakfast. If people are not feeling well, they’re encouraged to have a friend or neighbor pick up the meal for them. 

“We always do free meals for everyone,” said Hills. “We wanted to emphasize that because some people might not think they’re eligible to eat in a soup kitchen, (but) now they might be out of work or sick. They don’t have to pass screening. We don’t ask people why they’re here.” 

Hills said the changes were made in light of the economic impacts from the coronavirus, which has led to the statewide temporary closures of schools, businesses, and any public establishment where 25 or more people could gather, an order announced by Gov. Charlie Baker on Sunday. 

“It all happened so quickly over this past weekend,” said Hills. “We heard last week people were worried about whether they would work and still have jobs, particularly bussers or servers at restaurants.” 

The organization, located at 98 Willow St., usually serves lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and doesn’t open again until dinner is served from 5:30 to 7:15 p.m. 

Although Hills noted the schedule change will mean the soup kitchen closes earlier, she said people now have the option of stopping by for a free meal or coffee throughout the day, which could mean more than two daily visits for some. 

Since Baker’s order bans food establishments from providing dine-in services, Hills said patrons will be prohibited from eating in the dining hall and will be limited to takeout only. 

As “social distancing” has been identified as the most important precaution against the spread of COVID-19, people will not wait in a line for the meals. Instead, they will be directed to wait in the hallway and a perimeter will be established around the dining room so people can spread out even more, Hills said. 

“Meals to Go” at My Brother’s Table is usually only provided to people who bring a doctor’s note, but the changes will eliminate that requirement along with the limit of one meal per person, Hill said. 

“People can pick up as much food as they need,” she said. “If you’ve spent any time in a grocery store lately, you can see people of all sorts are panicking about access to food. We want people to know you don’t need to panic. There’s something to eat here. You will not go hungry.” 

Although My Brother’s Table always provides free meals, Hills said the organization is feeling the same strain as other businesses from the coronavirus, which has spread globally and been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. 

Hills said there’s been a cost to buy all of the “to-go” supplies in order to meet the anticipated demand and the organization has had to cancel two of its scheduled fundraisers. Since My Brother’s Table is privately funded, it is not eligible for government assistance and relies on donations, she said.

Another strain has been a shortage of volunteers as a result of school and church closures, and older adults who would usually volunteer, but are opting to stay home since they’re at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness, Hills said. 

“We need volunteers,” she said. “If you can’t volunteer, you can donate.” 

People can sign up for a shift by calling the My Brother’s Table office at 781-595-3224 during regular business hours, or send a donation through their website.