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Framingham: Pearl Street holds final community meal before move

By Jim Haddadin
Daily News Staff

FRAMINGHAM — It was a fitting farewell.

After serving thousands of needy families from its food pantry and community kitchen at 10 Pearl St., the United Way of Tri-County on Tuesday closed the doors of the facility for the last time, preparing to relocate to a new base of operations across the street.

But before they said goodbye, staff and volunteers mobilized for one final day of service — a massive show of giving that became a testament to the building’s mission over the years.

In the morning, volunteers from seven companies helped distribute packages of Thanksgiving meals to more than 700 families in need, complete with turkey, fresh vegetables, stuffing and dessert. Then in the evening, the cafe served its final community meal, providing those in need a ration of those same Thanksgiving staples.

For some, it was a melancholy moment, filled with memories of the hard work that kept the operation running over the past six years.

The United Way’s role in MetroWest has grown ever more vital during that time, agency President and CEO Paul Mina said. Pearl Street, the fourth largest food pantry in Massachusetts, serves some 4,000 families each year, Mina said. Clients are permitted to visit once per month to receive a week’s worth of food, including canned goods, dairy products, meat or fish.

On the other side of the operation, the cafe serves hot meals Tuesday and Thursday nights, providing food for an average of about 200 people per night. Increasingly, patrons are among the working poor, Mina said; many are employed in service jobs that don’t pay enough to put food on the table, Mina said.

During his three decades in the field, Mina said the level of need has never been higher. In some cases, those who donated only last year to the United Way now seek help from the organization, he said.

Volunteers filled that need at the Pearl Street site, Mina said, investing their time and sweat equity over the years.

“Everyone has put so much effort, dedication and emotion into the 10 Pearl St. location over the last six years,” Mina said in an announcement about the move, “and while moving into newer, larger and more modern space is a happy thing, leaving the current site is kind of sad as well.”

The organization’s move came about through unexpected circumstances. While the food pantry previously paid reduced rent to occupy the Pearl Street site, the building was sold to a new owner, who asked for more money.

Mina said United Way tried to work out a way to stay at Pearl Street, offering to buy the building, and proposing a slightly increased rent, but the deals fell through. Instead, Mina said the organization worked out a deal with Roger Challen, the owner of the United Way headquarters at 46 Park St.

The organization bought the building from Challen for $1.7 million, a price Mina said was less than the $1.95 million valuation for the building. The cafe will move over the next week into the previously vacant first floor.

The new Pearl Street Cupboard & Café at Park will open Dec. 5. Mina said the building is fully handicapped accessible, and will offer several advantages, Mina such as a more modern kitchen.

“It’s going to be a magnificent place,” he said. “It’s going to be great for our clients.”

The organization will continue to accept donations through Jan. 1, 2017 through its “Feed a Family for $50” campaign, which invites donors to pay $50 to provide as many as seven bags of groceries for holiday meals.

Donations can be made through the United Way’s website at www.uwotc.org/feedafamily; by mailing a check to the United Way c/o Feed a Family For Fifty, 46 Park St., Framingham, MA 01702; or by texting the word FEED to 91999 and following the link to complete the donation.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 617-863-7144 or jhaddadin@wickedlocal.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JimHaddadin.