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  • Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Assistant Kitchen Manager, Kevin Miller stands near one of many shelving unit in the basement of the Nashua Soup Kitchen on Chestnut Street. The soup kitchen has recently experienced heavier than normal traffic serving approximately 2000 people a month.
  • Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Rebekah Gibson knocks food off of a tray into a garbage can at the Nashua Soup Kitchen, Friday afternoon. The soup kitchen has recently experienced heavier than normal traffic serving approximately 2000 people a month.
  • Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS

    Salad dressing is ladled onto salad, Friday afternoon at the Nashua Soup Kitchen. The soup kitchen has recently experienced heavier than normal traffic serving approximately 2000 people a month.
  • Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS

    From left, Cheryl Violette, Wayne Nolette and Jose Rosado finish up their meals, on a snowy Friday afternoon at the Nashua Soup Kitchen. Violette and her husband, David, are currently living in their car and if it weren't for the soup kitchen, Violette says, "we wouldn't have anything."
  • Staff photo by GRANT MORRIS

    John McGranaham, of Hudson and the Nashua Elks Club, puts spaghetti onto a tray, Friday afternoon at the Nashua Soup Kitchen.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Nashua soup kitchen sees spike of 13% in ’11

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a series of stories examining the consequences of state budget cuts on area people and programs.

The recession for what social worker Eileen Brady calls “our people” began before it did for everyone else.

Brady estimates Nashua’s poorest residents started receiving pink slips and facing reduced hours around March 2008.

“Our folks are the test case,” she said. “The first to be let go. The first to have their hours cut.”

Cuts to the state budget that took effect last summer have only made matters worse at the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter, Brady said. She and other workers have had to divvy up meal times to accommodate the crowds and are on pace to serve 12,000 to 18,000 more meals in the next year than a year ago.

“Since June of last year, we’ve had an enormous spike,” Brady said. “The resources were diminished so much, (people have) had to reach out to places they haven’t had to reach out to before.”

Hospitals, colleges and human services laid off hundreds of workers after legislators chopped $1 billion from the state’s budget last year. The cuts have meant a reduction of programs and services.

The Nashua Soup Kitchen felt the impact almost immediately as more people who hadn’t previously needed help turned to it for aid.

“There’s this myth that there’s unlimited resources and advice – and magic. I don’t know … that these organizations are going to be able to pick up the slack of enormous changes in resources,” Brady said. “We’re nimble, but we’re not big enough to handle the things that need to be done. For some reason, that reality doesn’t seem to have been heard.”

The soup kitchen served almost 10,000 more meals in 2011 than in 2010, a spike of about 13 percent. That includes 55,726 dinners in 2011, compared to 47,471 in 2010, according to executive director, Lisa Christie.

In August, the soup kitchen served more than 250 meals in one sitting for the first time in its 30-year history – and then did it four more times that month, Christie said in an e-mail, including 285 meals during dinner service Aug. 29.

Since July, the soup kitchen has had to add 30 minutes to meal times and is serving 1,000 to 1,500 more meals a month than in the previous year, according to a fundraising letter mailed last month.

Brady also has had to split up food basket distribution days.

The baskets, containing perishable items like vegetables, fruit, deli meats and salads, are handed out six days a week. Since this summer, the shelter has had to limit who can come on which day based on where their name is in the alphabet, Brady said.

The soup kitchen also has added a special time for families with children to get lunch or dinner. Brady said the number of children coming to the soup kitchen has exploded since she began working there years ago.

“It was very rare to have kids here,” she said. “The families-with-kids demographic has grown considerably. It’s very much on the families with kids whose economics have changed significantly.”

Things aren’t likely to get better soon.

In a report that will be released Wednesday, the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that while the homeless population shrank since last year, the number of people at risk of homelessness is skyrocketing.

The report found a 13 percent increase in the number of “doubled up” households from 2009-11. It also found a 22 percent increase in families severely burdened by housing costs, defined as families living below the poverty line and spending at least half of their monthly income on housing, according to the State of Homelessness in America Report.

“These indicators, as well as other economic and demographic indicators analyzed in the report, underscore the persistent risk of homelessness for poor and low-income people and families,” said Catherine An, an Alliance spokeswoman.

The number of homeless students is also on the rise.

In a four-year period, the number of homeless students in New Hampshire jumped 44 percent, from 1,439 during the 2006-07 school year to 2,573 in 2009-10. In one year alone, from 2008-09 to 2009-10, 441 additional students were classified as homeless, a 21 percent increase, a spike education officials have attributed to the impact the recession has had on families.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached at 594-6415 or Also follow Cote on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).