Meal preparation during COVID-19

At Rosie's Place in Boston, meals to go are prepared for women in need.

(Photo courtesy Michele Chausse)

In 1974, Rosie’s Place in Boston launched something which was the first of its kind in the country, a place offering shelter to women.

This was the long held wish of founder Kip Tiernan. Her vision has developed and flourished into a home extending extraordinary programs far beyond anything she might have imagined.

“I have been a volunteer at Rosie’s Place since 2002,” says Milton’s Isabelle Stillger. “I joined the board a few years later, served as chair for four years but stepped down a couple of years ago, and continue to serve on the board. I currently chair the Strategic Planning Committee, the Development Committee, and the Marketing/Communications Committee. In my earlier years with Rosie’s Place, I worked in the dining room serving lunches and dinners and became a tutor in our Women’s Education Center.”

Isabelle hasn’t been to Rosie’s Place for weeks because of the existing pandemic. Also prohibited from entry are the enthusiastic and faithful volunteers.

Volunteers produce a dramatic difference by complementing staff, thus contributing to the efficiency of offerings.

Slightly decreasing the number of helpers can hinder functionality greatly. Eliminate them totally and results can be shattering. Extra hands no longer generate indispensable assistance.

The year 2020 ushered in a time overflowing with promise but the pandemic quickly brought that to a trickle. Human activity pretty much froze and the safest strategy was to shelter in place.

People were told to stay home. People did. Most people.

Michele Chausse, director of communications for Rosie’s Place, posed a question.

“How do you shelter from home if you don’t have a home?” she asks regarding current conditions.

“We have certain services that we are continuing to offer,” Chausse says. “All the staff are taking different roles to deliver that service. We do have quite a network of dedicated volunteers and since they have not been coming in, we have been able to make a go of it by having some of our core kitchen staff on hand making meals at different times of the day and supplementing that with staff from other departments.”

She continues, “We’re providing food to our guests in two different ways. We are allowing homeless women to spend the day with us. They can come as early as 7:30 in the morning. We have a medical screening. They can take showers or have some light breakfast, food and coffee. Then we will put out lunches, half of which are hot or they might be sandwiches, and we have them packaged so they can be eaten there or taken to go. Later in the day, we put together a hot dinner. That is for the women who are homeless and will be going to other shelters or possibly outside at the end of our day. They can take that food with them.”

“We have a 20 bed shelter,” Chausse notes. “When the virus began, we made a decision to keep the women in the shelter for their own safety. Ordinarily, we only allow women to stay for 21 days but we’ve allowed them to stay indefinitely. We’re happy to say that not one woman has tested positive.”

Chausse describes other pressing issues which are being addressed.

“Outside the building, we are distributing items from our food pantry to women who are housed,” she says. “We have a group of staffers who take the food we are getting from the Greater Boston Food Bank and put bags of food together: one for non-perishables and one for vegetables, meat, and dairy. We’re distributing them, along with toilet paper and masks, to women who come to Rosie’s Place, and we see them outside in a tent.

“We started off with 100 to 150 and now we are exceeding 200 to 250 per day. These are women struggling to make ends meet and now people are losing jobs or getting laid off. It’s tough. There are a lot of families where the younger ones or other family members are deciding to all live together. When they come for groceries, we ask, ‘How many people do you have in your household?’ and we’re hearing six, eight, or as many as 10 people. We’re doing what we can to help them stretch whatever food budget they have. We’re not keeping track of who comes when so the women know they can return when they need a hand again.”

Life can leap into the unexpected instantly. Homelessness is exceptionally challenging minus a health crisis.

Chausse offers her observations.

“A lot of women who are coming to us are homeless,” she says. “They are definitely feeling the strain of all the unknowns. Initially, they were uncomfortable being in such close proximity as the city shelter. A lot of the women we serve at Rosie’s Place have existing health conditions. A lot of women are doing the best they can to keep themselves safe, and there’s fear and concern about what is going to happen to them long term. That’s why we’re dedicated to remaining open.”

She adds, “This whole crisis puts a spotlight on the lack of strong systems and services for homeless people before there is a crisis. The biggest effort has been made by the City of Boston working closely with the Boston Public Health Commission. That’s who is leading the charge for service in our community.”

Chausse concludes, “I would say that we have been adaptive, creative, and adjusted. Thanks to the generosity of the community through their donations of items and financial support, our intention is to stay open. We have never closed our doors and we don’t intend to do so any time soon.”

Stillger makes it clear that Kip Tiernan taught her an important lesson.

“One person, just one person, can make a difference,” Stillger says. “I have tried to live my life with this important mantra. Nothing is impossible. I encourage anyone to join us in making a difference in the lives of poor and homeless women. They need us, especially now.”

If you wish to help, call 617-442-9322.

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