Photo: Cambridge Action Forum officers David Lewis and Karen Carmean
“Every year we look forward to hearing what are the most important changes since last year,” Karen Carmean said as she opened the annual Cambridge Action Fund Forum on December 8. “What are you doing now, and what have been your biggest issues?”
Cambridge Action Fund, Inc. (CAF) is an organization of local businesses and individuals that contribute funds and volunteer services to help homeless people in the community. www.cambridgeactionfund.org
At this year’s Forum, four charities that receive money from CAF reported on the past year’s activities and their plans for the future.
The presentations took place around a table in the parish hall of Christ Church Cambridge, the historic Episcopal church at Zero Garden Street, Harvard Square. Four organizations were represented: the Harvard Square Churches Meals Program, Food For Free, On The Rise, and CASPAR (Cambridge and Somerville Program for Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation.
“Hopefully you’re going to get ideas from this program tonight on what you can do to make a difference,” Carmean said as she opened the meeting. She was talking both to listeners around the table and, in addition, to a broader audience that will see the proceedings via a video to be broadcast during the coming year on CCTV.
Carmean is President of CAF. With her were her husband, Doane Perry III, CAF’s Secretary-Treasurer (left), and David Lewis, Chair of the Board of Directors. The three are co-founders of the organization, established in 1995.
• Harvard Square Churches Meal Program First to speak were Laurie Howell (right) and her co-worker Judy Siemen (left) of the Harvard Square Churches Meal Program, Inc. – ten local churches that take turns serving free community dinners on Thursday nights. http://www.cccambridge.org/programs_mission_meals.php
“This year we’ve used money from CAF to hire some people who are homeless or very low-income -- people who have been coming to our program for a very long time,” said Howell, the church program's volunteer manager. “One of our goals has been to provide a little bit of employment.”
Howell said the results for providing even a small stipend for this purpose were impressive. Her co-worker Judy Siemen added that the number of people served has gone up.
“When I first started working with the program we had around 70 people at a meal. Now at our height we’ve been well over 140," Siemen said. "The average on a Thursday is about 100, and higher toward the end of the month. By then people’s SSI checks are pretty much gone. The need is huge.”
• Food For Free Next, David Leslie (left) described the work of the Food For Free Committee, Inc., based at 11 Inman Street, Cambridge. www.foodforfree.org He is the Executive Director. Food For Free picks up donated food from markets, farms, stores, restaurants and other establishments that have an over-supply. The food is distributed to about 80 meal programs including those at the Harvard Churches, On The Rise, and CASPAR.
“One thing we have noticed is that there are more middle-class families and working people coming in to pantries and meal programs,” Leslie said. “Even as the economy improves – if and when it does – the people we serve will be among the last to recover.”
“On the plus side,” Leslie went on, “We’re seeing a tremendous amount of support for what we’re doing. We’ve gathered well over 100,000 pounds of fresh produce and wholesome baked goods from farmers’ markets this year. And from some of the farms we’re getting a lot more than we would have a few years ago. From some of the bigger retailers, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and Shaw’s, we’ll pick up from five to eight hundred pounds of food in a day, which is fabulous.”
• On The Rise Martha Sandler is Executive Director of On The Rise, Inc., a day program for homeless women at 341 Broadway. www.ontherise.org On The Rise is a day program for women who are homeless and living in crisis. It provides, safety, community, and advocacy for over 350 women each year, and its program staff works with them as they strive to move beyond homelessness.
“What has made our eyes pop was that over the summer and fall we saw about a 20% increase in the number of women coming to On The Rise compared to the previous year, and a close to 30% increase in the number of women who are new to the program,” she said.
On The Rise’s recent program of street outreach collaboration with CASPAR has paid off, according to Sandler (at right in photo). “By going out into the street with CASPAR workers, we’ve started to form relationships with women who had not been accessing any services whatsoever. People who grow up with poverty, trauma and abuse, mental illness, addiction, and domestic violence tend to be very skeptical of social services and of people who say, “‘We’re here to help you.’”
• CASPAR Gerardo Moreno-Serrano (left) is Senior Treatment Coordinator for the ACCESS (A Client Centered Experience Staying Sober) Transitional Program at CASPAR, Inc., 240 Albany Street, Cambridge. http://www.casparinc.org/ CASPAR offers outreach, shelter, stabilization, residential, aftercare, and prevention services for men, women, children and teens.
Moreno-Serrano said the year has been a challenge because a number of the area’s detoxification units have closed. As a result, he said:
“Our homeless population has been increasing day by day. We have been really looking for money to have more beds, expand our services, and provide the clinical program. At the same time we try to decrease the rate of relapsing, so they don’t become homeless again.”
He thanked the CAF representatives for their support, and said it had helped CASPAR to increase the number of available beds by 50%.
According to its Annual Report, CAF donated $3,100 to area homeless service organizations in 2010. Contributors include Maven Realty, A Bed & Breakfast in Cambridge, Avid Management, First Estate Realty, Bookkeeping Plus More, Hickey, Beatrice and Parker, Minuteman Press, Lemelman & Lemelman, Sue Butler, Cambridge Trust Company, Boston Investments and others. All operating expenses are donated except for bank and licensing fees. CAF also welcomes volunteers to help with its programs.