Food, Clothing, and So Much More

Who clothes 700 men and women and serves 23,000 hot meals each month? The staff and volunteers of St. Francis House’s basic services department. Basic services, which includes the Fresh Threads clothing program and food services, not only helps satisfy two fundamental human needs, but also serves as a bridge for clients to more deeply engage with St. Francis House and its many other offerings. “Our guests first perceive St.Francis House as a safe harbor — a place to rest, eat a warm meal, and get clothes,” says Executive Director Karen LaFrazia. “From there, it’s our responsibility to build relationships with them and to offer them other critical resources like case management, medical and psychiatric care, vocational rehabilitation, and help with housing.”

Fresh Threads

As the largest distributor of clothing to poor and homeless men and women in the Boston area, the Fresh Threads program provides not only everyday clothing, but also winter gear that can prevent frostbite and hypothermia on frigid winter days. When possible, Fresh Threads also fulfills requests for special clothing — such as sturdy work boots for a construction job or business attire for a job interview. Volunteer Services Coordinator Ashley Medlar recalls a guest who came to the Fresh Threads counter wearing dirty, tattered clothes. “I have a job interview, but I don’t want to go to it looking homeless,” he told her. She out fitted him with a blue button-down oxford shirt, gray slacks and black shoes. He was very grateful, but then asked sheepishly if he could have a tie too, which she gave him. He immediately tried on the outfit in the restroom and emerged transformed. “Our guests are so appreciative and there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing someone with a big smile on their face, feeling good for the first time in a long time,” says Medlar. And whenever possible, the volunteers who work the Fresh Threads counter try to provide guests with several clothing options. To someone who is unaccustomed to being offered choices, the gesture can be profound. The volunteers who work in the Fresh Threads program, about 60-70 in a typical month, often form warm relationships with the guests. “Some guests will come on certain days of the week because they know a particular volunteer will be working,” says Medlar. “The work is also a lot of fun for the volunteers too.”

Food Services

Like the clothing program, St. Francis House’s food services — which provides breakfast, lunch, and sandwiches seven days a week — is run by a small staff and a corps of dedicated volunteers. Those volunteers do prep work, staff the food line, wash dishes, and most importantly, interact with the guests. One volunteer, a man in his eighties, has been working shifts for more than two decades. For many guests, whether homeless or simply poor, these meals are the only hot, nutritious ones they eat all week. “We cook like we cook at home for our family — in terms of the time, the effort, and the thought we put into it,” says Head Chef Seth Green. Green also creates balanced meals with lots of lean protein, fruit, and vegetables. St. Francis House also creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere in the dining room, where coordinator Don Wells hangs out and chats with guests, while ensuring that meals run smoothly. “We all crave the company of others and the dining room serves an important social purpose,” says LaFrazia. “To be in the company of others who enjoy you is very healing.” Like LaFrazia, Basic Services Director Francesca Ricci believes her department does much more than simply feed and dress people. “We’re giving people the opportunity to make positive choices and engage in positive interactions,” says Ricci. “And we’re part of a whole system that supports our guests as they improve their lives.”