Meeting Minutes, January 21, 2021
Helping Our Neighbors and Our Local Businesses
- Local efforts underway to keep neighbors and small business afloat during COVID
- Continuing Concerns re the change in direction at Davenport Street
- Accommodating open discussions during meetings
Matt Stewart, St James Episcopal Church
Parish house to open in spring (hopefully). To comply with state and City COVID regulations, they hope to host a series of small tours for neighbors when they have the CO.
Their Helping Hand food pantry, which moved to Rindge Towers during construction of the new building, will return. Demand has increased 30%-40% since last March. Currently, the pantry distributes food one Saturday each month; the church hopes to be able to distribute food more often from the new building; at one point, the pantry was open 3 days a week.
The new parish house will have a “full size, industrial strength kitchen,” from which they hope to prepare a community meal weekly or monthly, which they hope would become an opportunity to build connections through preparing and sharing food. All folks in the community, including those without homes, would be welcome.
In response to a question about the outdoor church that holds Sunday services for the homeless and others in the neighborhood in the plaza in front of the T station, Rev. Stewart noted that this operation is an autonomous group for which St. James offers a place to store the materials needed for the service and lunches it distributes afterward. This congregation does not feel comfortable in a formal church building, and Rev. Stewart does not expect them to move their services from their current location.
On the theme of helping people, Rev Stewart mentioned the prison ministry that he has launched, and that he would welcome the participation of interested neighbors.
The parish house includes facilities which will be available for anyone in the community to use. In addition to the kitchen, a performance space that opens onto the courtyard and several small classrooms can be rented for a single use or for a series. No fees have been set yet.
To contact Matt Stewart: email@example.com
Anna Tonachel, Cambridge Co-Housing
Food collection to support St. Luke’s Episcopal food pantry in Chelsea. This effort began in the cohousing community and expanded to include donations from neighbors in May. They now fill two cars with donations delivered every Friday afternoon.
Last November, they added children’s books to the mix, and this has generated an amazing response. Many parents report that they can read simple books to their children, which gives them a chance to practice their English as well. They now deliver around 50 books/week.
They intend to keep this going through the spring, and possibly longer. The request for donations is posted weekly to the PSNA listserv.
Claire Blechman, Mutual Aid Medford And Somerville (MAMAS)-
Originally a socialist snow shoveling brigade, MAMAS has evolved and expanded since March 2020 in response to community needs driven by the pandemic. It is an entirely community-run, horizontal, anti-capitalist organization that believes in solidarity, not charity, that everyone has something to offer, and everyone has something they need.
MAMAS has a distributed working group structure (e.g, housing/tenants’ rights, grocery/deliveries, money, emotional support, language justice, hotline). A coordinating committee makes decisions by consensus. Requests for aid are submitted through their website or by calling their hotline. Assistance is provided without means testing, judgment, or collecting or storing private info that it is not needed. They share knowledge and info with local nonprofit and governmental organizations, but are not an NGO. In addition to the 1,222 deliveries of groceries (as of December 1), MAMAS has collected and redistributed $245,092.51 to residents of Medford and Somerville (as of January 21).
More information about the MAMAS organization, its mission, its services, and how to participate or request services is available on its website: https://www.mutualaidmamas.com
Its Cambridge counterpart (see https://www.cambridgemutualaid.info/) has a different distributed service model in that it matches up people who need assistance with people who can help.
Blechman also plugged the Community Fridges, which are beginning to appear in the area. Anyone who has more food than they can store or finish before it goes bad can bring it to a fridge, and anyone who wants it can take it. One of them is in Harvard Sq. (near the Sinclair).
To set up a fridge successfully, it is best to find a business that is willing to host it which solves the electrical outlet problem. The electricity cost runs about $30/month. No doubt there are local ordinances to comply with as well.
Theodora Skeadas, Executive Director, Cambridge Local First
Skeadas offered some context for the current condition of local businesses. Income inequality is the worst it has been in our history. Small business ownership has been the primary vehicle for upward economic mobility; these businesses are the primary vehicle for immigrants, women, and minorities to gain an economic foothold and build wealth. In 1950s and 1960s, more than 150,000 new businesses were started each year. In 2019, this figure dropped below 20,000.
99% of all US businesses are small businesses, employing half of American workers. As of November 2020, 57% of all local businesses in MA had closed since the pandemic took hold.
CLF’s presentation and information about resources available to local businesses and their patrons are available from the links below:
Why Amazon is bad for local businesses: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/02/business/not-amazon-canada.html
Things you can do to support local businesses for free:
To contact Skeadas:firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Leach, Agassiz Baldwin Community
Leach described the programs ABC is running that contribute to the community relief from COVID.
First, ABC is now running two remote-learning programs for 39 kids (second through eighth grade; one during the school day, and one after school). Originally open only to CPS students, some younger students in other districts (Medford, Somerville, Boston) have joined recently.
Second, it has been running a food pantry that makes deliveries since early in the pandemic. On Tuesdays and Fridays, members of the Cambridge Bike Group make these deliveries from Cambridge Community Center They now have more volunteers with cars who assist with deliveries. If you’d like to be one of these volunteers, contact Phoebe Sinclair (email@example.com), who coordinates these deliveries.
They accept donations of diapers and wipes, but not food.
Claire Cheney, Curio Spice Company
Cheney offered an update on their path through the pandemic.
The retail storefront closed in early March, but she has been able to continue operating because the state declared them essential business. She continues to sell spices and offer online classes to home cooks, but has lost a significant revenue stream from restaurants.
Like all local business owners, Cheney is trying to grow and scale her business in crazy times and is most grateful for customers who continue to support them. She has negotiated a lease for the space next door (formerly occupied by Benoit Realty), which she plans to use for socially distanced working space, which will allow her to reopen storefront in Spring 2021, COVID restrictions permitting.
Curio has done a number of fundraising events to support restaurants and the community:
- “Off Their Plate”, meals for local frontline workers (raised $5000)
- Created a holiday package to help Project Restore Us, an organization that assists immigrant-owned restaurants, their employees, and their family members (large overlap there)
- “Root for Women” gift set for Cambridge Women’s Center (raised $1000). This set will remain on website
This general discussion concluded with a few observations:
- There are a lot of women-owned businesses on the block that hosts Curio Spice Company
- Some, but not all landlords, have been making accommodations in their leases to help businesses make it through this time.
- Many businesses are working 3 times as much as usual just to keep their heads above water, and some won’t make it, despite everything (so patronize them!)
- Making the effort to tell your favorite businesses why you appreciate them makes a difference. In these hard times, such a seemingly small thing buoys the spirits of the owners and their staff.
Continuing Concern re Davenport Street
Ruth asked for reports from those who live around Davenport Street about the effect of the change in direction to one way.
There is not much to report yet; one resident reported seeing fewer trucks going the now-wrong way, but stills sees them, usually for deliveries to stores at the Mass Ave end of the street. That the change has been made at all is not widely known given informal conversations with some who live nearby and with employees and owners of a couple businesses at the shopping center.
With respect to the shopping center, Gravestar apparently has a history of poor communication with tenants on these matters. This problem was not visible to the neighborhood when Si Shapiro, who previously owned Tags, was here filling that gap. Since his departure, other commitments to neighbors have gone by the wayside (e.g., limit on number of fast-food establishments at the shopping center and covering the windows at Star Market).
Much of the discussion focused on the observation that Traffic & Parking was not actually listening to anyone, and particularly not residents, before changing plans or policy, a problem seen in other neighborhoods and with other City departments. A number of options for raising this issue in forums where an impact is possible were offered.
Given the importance of capturing data on the impact of this change, discussion focused on the best mechanisms for that. Although many find the user interface to See/Click/Fix to be a barrier, this application may be best option because Traffic & Parking cannot claim they haven’t seen it. As far as a reporting strategy, it is best to post a note for every observed violation we see and refer to other notes that report the same problem in the database; note that archived notes cannot be reopened, but closed notes can be.
That said, the consensus was that Barr’s mind is already made up and that any accidents or injury that results from this change will instead be referred to the Police Department as an enforcement issue or left to the shopping center to deal with as trucks use its parking lot as a travel lane.
Neighbors expect that their concerns will be validated when traffic returns to pre-COVID levels. Beech is very congested right now as the final electrical work at St. James is underway, which affects traffic flow; some hair-raising maneuvers have been witnessed, but the lower volume of traffic has kept things short of disaster.
Discussion time on PSNA agendas
This meeting included two very helpful open-ended discussions. A process for assembling a monthly agenda that builds in time for them was discussed and will be applied to the February meeting.