Soup Kitchen combats childhood hunger

Staff photo by Katherine Glosser From left, 11-year-old Sarah Moore and 5-year-old Victoria McCarthy enjoy a Tuesday meal at the Nashua Soup Kitchen & Shelter.

NASHUA – “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. -Maya Angelou” is written on the wall behind a table where hungry and excited children gather to play and eat, while their parents look through the free items being offered in the room.

This is no cafeteria or daycare, however. This is the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter. Some of the families in the room have used the services for years, some without homes or income.

Lacey Wood, mother of three children, said she has been going to the shelter for three years. “I love it. They helped our family numerous times,” Wood said.

Another woman who called herself Jen Smith has three children, one 11-year-old, one 5-year-old and a young adult. Smith has been receiving help from the soup kitchen for about two years. Smith said her kids enjoy their time at the Soup Kitchen.

“It’s been great. They go extra for the kids, gives them multiple choices,” Smith said, “They like coming here at the sit-down area for kids. They think it’s going out to eat.”

Michael Reinke is director of the kitchen. He said 42 percent of Nashua School District elementary students are eligible to free or reduced-price lunch every day. Furthermore, 40 percent of these children are considered food insecure when outside their homes.

Among the schools the soup kitchen helps with is Dr. Crisp Elementary School, where over 72 percent of the children there are eligible for free or reduced lunches. The kitchen also works with organizations such as the Nashua Police Athletic League and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua.

Reinke said children who don’t eat enough food are more likely to be sick and have difficulty recovering from illnesses. It can also cause kids to have trouble with their concentration and learning, while also contributing to behavioral and emotional problems.

“Children who don’t have enough food at home have multiple risk factors … basically, if kids don’t have enough to eat, it affects everything from their schoolwork to their behavior and their health,” Reinke said.

Kitchen Community Outreach Coordinator Meghan Bolton said she helped with the Meals for Kids program, one of the services assisted by the Soup Kitchen that aims to feed local children, when it was first launched.

“One of the best experiences I ever had was being able to volunteer when the program first began,” Bolton said. “I was able to go out and distribute the meals and got to meet the kids who were being provided the meals and it was all very exciting.”

Kitchen Hispanic Advocate Juana Fields said she has worked for the organization for nine years. Fields said she has an office with a kids’ desk and activities and toys to keep them occupied while she helps their parents.

“I think it’s very hard when you’re seeing the kids … go through something harsh regardless of what it is,” Fields said. “I try to make them feel happy … or let them know they are going to be OK.”

In addition to food, Reinke also provides shelter for families and children. Every year, the shelter in the Soup Kitchen houses between 45 and 50 children. The organization has a special birthday room for children and will give them presents and sometimes they even have a birthday cake. The shelter also celebrates Christmas with the kids and gives them presents.

To raise money, the kitchen will be having an auction at 6 p.m. Nov. 3. There will be both silent and live auctions. Under the fundraiser is Fund A Need, which helps other nonprofits receive a portion of the funds raised by the auction. This year, Meals for Kids will be the recipient for Fund A Need.

Bolton said people should consider helping children in need if they are looking to volunteer for a cause in Nashua.

“Chances are, if you interacted with a child in Nashua, they have been in need of healthy outreach programs,” Bolton said. “Keep that in mind when you’re deciding what you are wanting to do with your volunteer time and donation funds.”