It all Started When ...
The Women's Lunch Place (WLP) was the brainchild of Jane Alexander and Eileen Reilly, two visionaries with an interminable sense of resolve. They met in the 1980s while volunteering at the Pine Street Inn, an overnight shelter for men and women in Boston. Distraught by the overwhelming needs of the women they encountered, they dreamed of creating a place to offer these and other women with nutritious, home-cooked meals and a place to call home during the day. At the time, few resources existed specifically for this population. Homelessness was on the rise due to changes in the state's mental healthcare system.
Open Six Days a Week
After securing space in the basement of the Church of the Covenant in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood, the Women's Lunch Place served its first lunch to twelve women on November 15, 1982. Initially, the shelter was open just three afternoons a week. However as word spread like wildfire through the streets of Boston, the need for additional services soon became apparent. In 1984, we added a fourth day of services and a fifth in 1986. By 1996, we were open six days a week.
The Complexity of Needs
As the size of our guest population increased, so did the complexity of needs. In 1992, we hired a formerly homeless woman to offer advocacy services to our guests. The success of this initiative led to the formal establishment of our Advocacy and Legal Assistance Program in 1995. Our advocates continue to support guests with their housing, legal, and personal needs today. To further meet the growing demand for advocacy services, we added a Resource Center in 2003. Guests may use the Resource Center to search for housing, employment, or to handle their personal affairs. In 2005, we hired a full-time cook in order to provide guests with consistently healthy and wholesome meals.
More than 150 Women and their Children
The Women's Lunch Place currently provides services to more than 150 women and their children each day. Some guests use our services on a daily basis, while there are others who we see less frequently. We are an ethnically diverse community, serving both American-born and immigrant women of all ages. More than half our guests are women of color, which reflects a growing trend in U.S poverty rates overall. Some of the women that we see only know life on the streets, while others are victims of episodic poverty due to changes in their social and/or employment status. Several of our guests struggle with substance use and/or mental health issues.
Sensitive to Each Woman's Needs
Our current hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 7:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. A continental style breakfast is available from 8:00 - 11:00 a.m., and lunch is served restaurant-style from 12:00 - 2:00 p.m. Our building also contains laundry and shower facilities, and rooms for napping and quiet activities. Guests are welcome to access a range of social, educational, and advocacy services, which include personal care items, clothing, free on-site healthcare, classes, and field trips. Services are delivered in a manner that is sensitive to each woman's needs and circumstances. While we aim to support those who wish to make changes in their lives, we understand that simply coming to the Lunch Place is an enormous step for some women.
A Long Road Ahead
Despite our many successes, we still have a long road ahead. We would like to extend our hours of operation, which is of great importance given that many women rely on us as their primary daytime resource. These demands come at a time when we are serving unprecedented numbers of women and their children, and prospects for longer-term strategies are seemingly bleak.