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A “Grab & Go” meal is handed to a Lazarus House Guest.

Sit, eat, have a cup of coffee and connect are now gone in favor of the safer “Grab & Go,” as the Lazarus House Soup kitchen in Lawrence adapts to continue serve the dozens of hungry and impoverished Guests who rely on it for meals.

“We need to stay open (during the pandemic) to provide for the people who most need it,” said Miguel Cruz, Director of Community Services. “It’s not only homeless people who come to the Soup Kitchen, it’s people who live in rooming houses, people who have lost jobs, people who don’t have the money to buy food and cook for themselves.”

In this “new world,” those served by the soup kitchen must stay outside and socially distance as they await individual meal bags. While it is vital nourishment, what may be missing for some is the nourishment of the soul that comes from one-on-one interactions between the staff and Guests.

“Guests have a lot of anxiety,” said Cruz. “This is where they go to feel safe, welcome, and to socialize. All of that has been taken away from them.”

For many, the Soup Kitchen is the only place they feel comfortable, safe, and that they belong. Besides the basic need of food, there is often another.

“A gentleman came by and said, ‘I have no running water, I need some supplies to keep myself clean,’” said Cruz. “We provided personal care items so that he could wash up and stay sanitary.”

While the staff takes precautions – masks, gloves, hand sanitizer – they work in close quarters in a small kitchen. All know that they are one infection away from possibly having to shut down.

“If someone in soup kitchen gets sick, then the rest of the staff has to go home and quarantine,” said Jeff Hassel, Executive Director.

Meal bags being prepared by the Lazarus House staff.

The staff is currently developing service “teams” that will work together in set shifts in different days so that if one team gets hit by COVID-19 or quarantine, the others can still provide essential food and care to those in need. Before the pandemic, many volunteer families would regularly prepare meals and bring them to the soup kitchen. The risk of contamination has ended that … for now.

“We’ve had calls from people wanting to donate food, and we’ve had to turn them away,” said Cruz. “People out there are thinking of us and asking what they can do. We’re asking them to send monetary donations.”

Non-perishable food in cans or boxes is being accepted for donation at the nearby St. Martha’s Food Pantry on Hampshire Street. Those donations help keep the soup kitchen running.

“Fear is the biggest issue,” said Almarie Silverman, Director of Advocacy. “The soup kitchen Guests are grateful for us being there, but they are scared. They don’t know where they’re going to get their next meal if we close.”

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Jon Harkings