Aside from the sign above the front door, there’s little to distinguish the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter from the other tenement buildings on Wilson Street. It’s a tiny building, and it seems even smaller on the inside. While that fact hasn’t deterred volunteers from serving three meals a day to Nashua’s needy, the kitchen has started to feel the pinch of limited space.
“We’re bursting at the seams here,” said Lisa Christie, executive director of the soup kitchen. “We have people waiting outside for food in the 98-degree August sun and in the February 28-degree sleet. And the people inside have to eat quickly because there’s just not enough room for everybody.”
A short tour of the building confirms this. The basement is a labyrinth of donated food boxes stacked from floor to ceiling in neat but cramped aisles. On the third floor, bag upon bag of coats and blankets occupy what used to be a living room, while another room is lined by shelves full of toys for children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to celebrate their birthdays. Office space is nearly non-existent, with staff members sharing computers and desk space in storage closets.
While Christie says the kitchen can still perform its core function of feeding people, other efforts have been hindered by the deficit of free space.
“We don’t have any space during the day to have meetings with people. We had somebody from the Lamprey Health Center here to talk to clients about the Affordable Healthcare Act, Medicare and Medicaid. We had to do it at seven o’clock at night, when we had less people than if we did it at three in the afternoon. There’s just not enough space.”
Earlier plans to relocate the kitchen to a larger facility were stymied in 2012. Initially, the kitchen was slated to be moved to a property just a few blocks away, on West Otterson Street. However, the City Planning Committee denied the request for use, citing concerns over the proximity of the soup kitchen to Elm Street Middle School.
The city’s decision was a major setback for the kitchen, which had to scrap nine months of planning. Shortly after the decision, however, the kitchen was approached by Commander Barry Palmer of VFW Post 483, who was looking to sell the Post’s premises at 2 Quincy Street. A deal was quickly reached, and the building was acquired for use by the Kitchen.
Presently, the Kitchen manages to operate with around 4,000 square feet. After it moves to the new location, it will have more than 13,000 square feet at its disposal. All this space, however, comes with a hefty price tag.
“We’ve raised around $1.6 million so far,” said Community Outreach Manager Carol Weeks.
Thanks to an anonymous donor fundraising challenge, the Kitchen only needs $150,000 more to raise the entirety of its $2 million goal. The money will go toward renovating the new building, which needs extensive remodeling and HVAC work.
Weeks is optimistic about raising the money before the year’s end.
“Years ago,” she said, “during the holidays, we barely had any turkey donations. We didn’t want to lean too heavily on the media, but somehow the story got on the AP Wire. Within two days, we had over 1,500 turkeys. The community has always come through for us.”
If the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter secures its funds, it is expected to be operational at its new location by August of 2014.
Appeared in the Nov. 28, 2013 issue of the Hippo