Archives for October 2017

Father’s Death Leads to Search for Meaning The Legacy of World War II

Walter Carter

Monday, November 13

Cary Memorial Library lower level meeting room,

Hosted by the Lexington Veterans Association

The public is invited for coffee and conversation at 12:45 p.m. with the program beginning at 1:15 p.m.

 

Walter Carter was a young boy in Huntington, West Virginia when his father, Norval Carter, a small-town doctor, was killed by a sniper while tending to a wounded soldier, 12 days after landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. As an adult researching his father’s life, he wrote a memoir about his father, then spent years thinking, writing, and speaking about the meaning and the changing views of World War II.

Walter wrote a memoir about his father, then spent years thinking, writing, and speaking about the meaning and the changing views of World War II.

As a young person, Carter held a simplistic view of the war. “It was a good war and the Americans were the good guys”, he recalls. “Some nasty people got aggressive and America had to stop them and set the world right.” After years of interacting with fellow members of the American WWII Orphans Network, helping veterans secure their rightful benefits as an officer of the 29th Division Association, or escorting high school and college students to the Normandy beaches as a board member of Normandy Allies, Carter gradually came to realize that the war was much more complicated and nuanced.

“We weren’t totally the good guys,” Carter continues, “America didn’t do it alone. The casualties and destruction suffered by America were only a small fraction of the war’s total devastation. We made some mistakes and committed some atrocities. There were race and desertion issues. Rather than keeping score, a more useful way to look at the war is to ask, what would the world have looked like if Germany had won?”

After receiving a degree in history from Swarthmore College, Walter Carter earned two masters degrees, one in international relations from Tufts University and one in economics at the University of Rochester. His professional career included service as Instructor in Economics at Hobart College, Senior Economist with Charles River Associates, and, until his retirement in 1999, Economist, Vice President and then Principal with a unit of the McGraw-Hill Company. An accomplished amateur trombonist, Mr. Carter performed with the Newton Symphony Orchestra for 40 years and served as President of the Symphony’s board.

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Veterans Day in Lexington

Veterans Day Breakfast

  • Veterans Breakfast, Saturday, November 4, Keilty Hall, St. Brigid’s Church
  • Sponsored by The Town Celebrations Committee in partnership with the Lexington Rotary and the Lexington/Bedford Veterans Services Office.
  • Tickets may be obtained at the Lexington Community Center and Michelson’s Shoes in Lexington Center. Admission is free but a ticket is required.
  • Coffee 8:30 a.m. Program starts 8:50 a.m. Breakfast served 9:00 a.m.
  • Rotary Club members will serve a full breakfast catered by Neillio’s.
  • Complimentary service portraits by professional photographer Dave Tabeling
  • More than 20 door prizes donated by local businesses.
  • For questions on the event, contact Veterans Services Director Gina Rada at grada@lexingtonma.gov or 781 698-4848.

 

Karen Budnick

Karen Budnick, LICSW, Senior Social Worker and Coordinator of the No Veteran Dies Alone program at the Bedford VA Hospital, will deliver the keynote address at the sixth annual Veterans’ Breakfast on Saturday, November 4, 2017 at Keilty Hall, St. Brigid’s Church, 2001 Massachusetts Avenue.
For the past eight years, Karen has served as the Social Worker at the David James Hospice Unit at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford. This unit includes its own dedicated physician, social worker, psychologist, nursing staff, volunteers and chaplain to care for veterans at the end of their lives with dignity, respect and compassion. “There is much suffering and hardship in the world today” Karen says, “and I view my job as helping to alleviate suffering and to bring light, love, peace and harmony to those veterans who are taking their final journey.”
Many veterans arrive at the hospice unit with serious psychic and medical issues – war injuries, PTSD, addictions of all kinds – that in turn have created sadness, loss, anger and separations from their families. As veterans approach the end of life, many yearn to mend these hurts and make peace with their families (and many families want to do the same). The love and support that the Hospice Program, Karen and the volunteers provide to veterans and families helps them open their hearts to forgiveness of self and forgiveness of others, often bringing peace and understanding before the veteran embarks on the final journey.
Karen holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and a Master of Social Work from Yeshiva University.

 

Veterans Day Parade & Ceremony
PARADE
Gather in parking lot behind
Police Station 9:30 a.m.
Step off 10:00 a.m.
CEREMONY
Inside Cary Hall, 11:00 a.m.

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New Lexington Historical Society Executive Director Erica Dumont is Set to Make History

By E. Ashley Rooney

Lexington Historical Society
Executive Director Erica Dumont

THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF LEXINGTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY VOTED UNANIMOUSLY TO APPOINT ERICA DUMONT THE NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Erica Dumont brings enthusiasm, nonprofit leadership experience, and passion to her new position. She sees the future of the Lexington Historical Society (LHS) as being vibrant, relevant in the community, and a center of learning both for families in town and beyond.

One of the opportunities she sees is that the town of Lexington is significant on both a local and national stage. “Where some historical societies struggle to find relevance in their community, the Society has the advantage of operating in the town where the first battle of the American Revolution took place, so there is national and global interest in the town, and an opportunity for the LHS to capture that interest,” Dumont says. Moreover, given that there are over 300 years of history in Lexington aside from the historic battle, Lexington Historical Society also has lots of options for local programming and exhibits to attract visitors.

One avenue of growth, Dumont sees, is more extensive family programming. What about a spinning bee she asks, (adding that this idea came from our programming director), a farming program focusing on Lexington’s agricultural past, an instructional program on colonial clothing and food, or perhaps a program on life in Lexington during WWII? With new families moving to town every day, the opportunity to educate, engage and inform newcomers and the community as a whole about the many facets of Lexington history should be an ongoing project.
Dumont has been the Executive Director of the Wellesley Historical Society since 2013. She says that LHS differs from Wellesley in that it is larger, has a broader reach, and has a focus on historical interpretation.

Her first position after graduating from Salem State University was working at Old North Church. Since then, she has been fascinated with early Revolution history, and LHS fit right in. Currently, she is completing her MA in History at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

Dumont looks forward to partnering with other organizations in Lexington and beyond to have a broader community impact. “I feel that partnering with organizations in Boston would allow us to capture the attention of tourists and museum goers and. hopefully, increase visitation to Lexington’s historic sites.”

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LexHAB is out front on effort to preserve affordable housing in Lexington

By Jim Shaw

Lexington has undergone many significant changes over the past few decades. Great public schools and excellent municipal management have made Lexington a very desirable community. This has led to an increase in ethnic diversity, and skyrocketing home values that no one could have predicted. While the future looks bright, the rising cost of housing in Lexington have left some with little hope of calling Lexington home. The Lexington Housing Assistance Board, or LexHAB, recognized over three decades ago that more and more families who either wanted to stay in Lexington or relocate here, were essentially being priced out of the market. Since 1984, LexHAB has been at the forefront of preserving and expanding affordable housing opportunities here in Lexington.

Celebrating the dedication of LexHAB’s newest properties are (Top L to R): Kyle Romano, Chris Traganos, Lester Savage, town manager Carl Valente, Mark Sandeen, selectman Doug Lucente, selectman Suzie Barry, LexHAB counsel Pat Nelson, LexHAB chairman Bill Kennedy, LexHAB board members Bill Hays and Martha Wood. Standing to the left are LexHAB board member Henry Liu, Representative Jay Kaufman, and LexHAB vice chair Bob Burbidge.

Developers set their sights on Lexington nearly twenty-years ago and the “tear-down” craze began in earnest. Homes that were remotely affordable were grabbed up by developers, torn down, and redeveloped into what locals have dubbed “McMansions.” More and more opportunities for affordable home ownership slipped away with little objection. The ability for kids who were raised in this community to put down roots of their own was essentially foreclosed upon as hundreds of potential “entry-level” homes were lost to builders. Some believe that town officials were slow to address the situation because the new, larger homes were bringing in significantly more tax revenue. Even more, Lexington’s Vision 20/20 speaks specifically to affordable housing. Under the theme Promote and Strengthen Community Character, points 3 and 4 encourage the Town to: “Provide increased housing options to promote diversity of income and age, and create strong incentives to maintain and expand affordable housing.” This made the need for affordable housing options even greater, and LexHAB rose to the challenge. Since it was established, LexHAB has built an inventory of nearly 70 properties, providing dozens and dozens of families the ability to call Lexington home.

One of the original LexHAB board members, David Eagle, had a vision for creating a program that would benefit the community in a profound way, while providing opportunities for its partners. Dave, who passed away in 2015, suggested that the Lexington Rotary Club could act as the general contractor to build homes to add to the LexHAB inventory. They would invite students from Minuteman Regional High School to provide the skilled labor under the supervision of their instructors. Everyone would win. LexHAB would add beautiful new homes to its stock, the Rotary Club would establish a new and vital way to serve the community, and the students at Minuteman would experience real-world conditions as part of their education. The property recently developed by LexHAB at 11 Fairview Avenue is the 14th home built in cooperation with Minuteman High School and students from several shops including carpentry, electrical, plumbing and HVAC.

Lester Savage of Lester Savage Real Estate/Century 21 Commonwealth assumed responsibility as project coordinator when Dave Eagle passed. Savage has served on the LexHAB board for many years and was eager, yet cautious to step into the role. Lester explained that his predecessor Dave Eagle made it seem simple, but it clearly wasn’t. Savage said, “Dave was a problem solver. He had a keen ability to get to the heart of a problem. He made things run smoothly and dedicated thousands of hours over the years to advancing this program. I was worried that his shoes were going to be too large to step in to.” By all accounts, Savage and the other members of the LexHAB team stepped up in a big way. In fact, they are currently negotiating the building of at least two additional sights. The larger of the two involves the construction of two 3-family dwellings at the site of the former Busa Farm on Lowell Street.

Lester is quick to share the spotlight with his fellow board members, the contractors and the students from Minuteman High School. He said, ” Working with the students at Minuteman Regional High School has become a tradition that we look forward to. This particular project on Fairview consisted of two buildings; one is essentially a remodeling of an existing building which we turned into a single-family dwelling, the other is a brand new building that will accommodate three families and adhere to strict ADA standards for handicapped accessibility. In order to complete the project on time, we essentially split the project between the students at Minuteman and a company named Feltonville Building Company. This concept worked very well in that it didn’t place too much of a strain on the students from Minuteman and allowed a good company like Feltonville to construct a beautiful new building. This was truly a win-win situation.”

Savage added, “If I needed someone to fill a gap at the old house I could get someone to take care of it. The students finished about 90% of the job, certain aspects were beyond their ability. But, the students, as always, did an extraordinary job. Their work is beautiful. They built it to a higher standard than most contractors. It was an old house so there were framing issues and Chris Traganos from Minuteman’s carpentry shop really worked closely with the students to do things the right way.”

As the project leader from LexHAB, Lester depended on advice and counsel from other members of the board including chairman Bill Kennedy and vice chairman Bob Burbidge. He also looked to draw on the experience of others who have participated in the past. Kyle Romano and Chris Traganos from Minuteman have been involved in previous projects. Lester explained that Kyle Romano from the plumbing shop was his liaison to Minuteman. He said, “It was my first time leading a project like this for LexHAB, so Kyle helped me to better understand the expectations of working with the students. At the end of the day, they met and exceeded my expectations. I can see why Dave Eagle was such a proponent of working with them.”

The concept of approaching the construction from two perspectives was a bit daunting. In one situation they were dealing with redeveloping an existing property. They were also looking to build a brand new multi-family building that would meet their low energy consumption stands. So, while the students focused on the redevelopment project, Feltonville Building Company was selected as the general contractor for the multi-family building.

Feltonville owner, Ian Mazmanian, was impressed with LexHAB from the very start. He explained that he had never quite seen the level of commitment to building such a large inventory of affordable housing. Mazmanian said, “Working with LexHAB was an incredible experience for us. It really opened my eyes to what is possible when good people come together to do good things. Working with Lester Savage and the others that LexHAB was especially rewarding. These are people who are committed to the idea of providing quality affordable housing to folks who might not otherwise have an opportunity to reside in a community like Lexington. Clearly, there is a need, and we were honored to participate in this project.”

Like Lester, this was Mazmanian’s first experience at leading a LexHAB construction effort. He said, “This was our first experience working with LexHAB, and it couldn’t have been more fulfilling. We had been working with Transformations [the original contractor] and circumstances prevented them from continuing on the project. We were ready and eager to take over the project.”

There were certain challenges with the specs on the project. For example, the project was originally intended to meet handicapped accessibility standards. It was changed to meet ADA standards (Americans with Disability Act). The differences are subtle, very important. It affects counter appliance requirements and basic mobility needs. But, Feltonville was able to adapt to the change seamlessly.

Mazmanian explained that he was pleased to see the students from Minuteman on the site, and that he was impressed with their commitment and skill levels. He said, “Although we were principally retained for the new 3-family building, we were involved to some degree with the old house project. We pulled the permits and assisted the students from Minuteman as needed. They were a great bunch of kids who are clearly devoted to honing their skills. I really enjoyed working with them.”

Lester explained that Transformations, the original contractor was unable to continue on the project. They had been working with Ian Mazmanian from Feltonville who stepped right in that took over the project. Lester said, “The folks at Feltonville are honest, and they do good quality work. Their clerk-of-the-works, Dave Woerpel served as the site manager and he really helped the project to move along. I would recommend them to anyone.” Lester also expressed gratitude to several local contractors and builders who provided goods and services at below market rates. They include Bob Foss Contracting, Arlex Oil Corporation, Arlington Coal & Lumber, J.M. McLaughlin Excavating and Wagon Wheel’s landscaping division.

Zero net energy is a concept that is becoming a standard here in Lexington. Last month in his Colonial Times column, Mark Sandeen outlined LexHAB’s commitment to very low to zero net energy consumption. Mazmanian explained that he appreciated LexHAB’s commitment to meeting very low net energy usage standards. He said, “One aspect of the project that I was particularly impressed with was the commitment to zero energy consumption. LexHAB was firm in their resolve to build a close to zero net energy facility. In the end, we achieved a 1 to 2 net energy rating.” Savage added, “There’s no reason why you can’t produce affordable housing that will be affordable in the long run, especially when it pertains to energy consumption. Our energy rating at the new property is better than 99% of the homes that are being built. Where in the top 1%. We are committed to drastically reducing the carbon footprint. Lexington is ahead of the curve when it comes to reducing consumption, and we want to honor that commitment by doing everything we can to achieve high energy standards on all of our new properties.”

Mazmanian emphasized that working with LexHAB was a uniquely satisfying experience. He said, “The overall experience of working with LexHAB was better than I could have imagined. Lester spent a great deal of time working with us and we felt supported throughout the entire project. I look forward to future opportunities to work with LexHAB.”

For Savage and the rest of the LexHAB organization, the challenge of identifying affordable building opportunities is becoming much greater. Lester explained that in order to meet their criteria, they have to be able to acquire land and build for well under $500,000 per unit. With land values in Lexington constantly climbing, meeting their budget limits is becoming nearly impossible. Lester said, “The challenge for us is to find a site that is affordable and within our budget. At Fairview Avenue we were able to acquire a good size parcel of land for around $500,000 and keep the construction cost to under $900,000. With the cost of land constantly increasing, it really is a challenge to find buildable lots within our budget to allow us to increase our inventory of affordable housing. We were able to build the Fairview properties at a cost of about $380,00 per unit.”

Savage added, “The multi-family property at Fairview should serve as a good model for what we hope to do at the Busa Farm property. In order to build affordable units you have to have multiple units. It’s really the only plausible way to keep total building costs under $500,000 per unit. If we wanted to build a single-family and keep it affordable, we would have to buy a lot for approximately $300,000 and keep building cost under $200,000. The multiple-unit concept was how we were able to keep the costs in check.”

LexHAB is a working organization comprised of individuals who have dedicated countless hours of service for a cause that grows more important every day. Lexington is fast becoming an exclusive community with few housing opportunities for low and moderate income families. The work of LexHAB and the people who make it happen has never been more necessary.

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Navigating How to Safely Age in Place

 

Alicia Grunes, RN, BSN Lexington Human Services  Nurse

By Alicia Grunes, RN, BSN

Lexington Human Services Nurse

The number of Lexington senior residents choosing to “age in place” is continually increasing. It takes a great deal of work and planning to remain in your own home as you age. Those beautiful area rugs that were passed down from generation to generation are a major tripping hazard. The flight of stairs you used to run up and down without a second thought now take you twice the time to maneuver. Early recognition of the obstacles in your home that could potentially become a health or fall hazard is paramount to aging in place.

As the Human Services Nurse for the Town of Lexington, I get several calls from spouses or children of seniors, the majority of these calls happen after the loved one has fallen. They are in a panic looking for advice on how to make their loved ones’ home safe. While there a number of resources on how to improve the safety of a home, most of these take time. Time is the key word. When someone wants to age in place, there is not always enough time to make the necessary adjustments to the home. Sitting down with your family and creating an aging in place safety plan is something that should be done early, preferably before any falls happen or new conditions are diagnosed.

When should this planning start to take place? One recommendation is to have this discussion while you are sitting down with family talking about your living will, health care proxy and/or power of attorney. The earlier you think about all of these things, the better prepared you will be. Even if you do not take drastic steps such as installing a chair lift or renovating a bathroom, you will at least have a plan of what changes you may need to make to the home.

Preventing falls in the home is the top priority when aging in place, for good reason. According to the Center for Disease Control, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older Americans. Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, including over 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths. Suffering from a fall threatens your independence, and ultimately your ability to remain living in your own home. Ask your physician about a falls risk assessment. Not many people ask why they are falling, they assume it is because of old age, which is false. Find out if there are specific ways you can prevent falls from happening.

Besides tripping hazards, there other changes to the home environment that may need to be made that you wouldn’t think of on a daily basis. If you were to be wheelchair bound, are there clear pathways throughout the house? If your dishes are up high in a cabinet, would you safely be able to get them down to eat a meal? Do you wear a personal assistive device that you could push for help should you need it? How about the bathroom – do you have a shower you can walk right into, or do you need to step over a bathtub wall? Going room to room and thinking of worse case scenarios is what will help ensure you make the necessary changes to safely age in place.

If you or a loved one is planning on aging in place, take the time to prepare. Having other people look throughout the home with you to help identify hazards is important. You may not realize the neatly stacked pile of books on the side of the stairs can become a fall hazard. There are clinicians who can come to the home and provide you with a home fall risk assessment. Nurses, Physical Therapists, and Occupational Therapists are all trained in how to identify fall and health hazards throughout a home. Speak to your doctor about your concerns; most insurances will cover a home risk assessment by an skilled professional.

If you decide to age in place, you are joining 80% of seniors in the country who have chosen their home over a facility. There are numerous benefits to remaining in your own home as you age. Aging in place allows you to preserve your independence. Take the necessary steps to safeguard yourself and your home so you can remain there. For more information on how to safely age in place, contact your physician, local home healthcare agency, or Lexington Senior Services at 781-698-4840.

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Is the future of transportation “all-electric”?

By Mark Sandeen

Q: Is the future of transportation “all-electric”?
A: Certainly Elon Musk would answer that question with an emphatic Yes! He has taken 400,000 orders at $1,000 a pop for one of the most anticipated cars in the history of cars – the Tesla Model 3. He is now sitting on an $18 billion backlog after the biggest product launch of any product ever.

Q: Of course Tesla thinks the future is all-electric. What does the rest of the industry think?
A: A year ago when Norway announced that they would reduce sales of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to zero by 2025, most analysts thought it was kind of cute. But this summer when France and the UK both announced a ban on ICE vehicles sales by 2040, even analysts from Exxon and BP started raising their electric vehicle forecasts. OPEC quintupled their forecast for electric cars and Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimated that electric cars would reduce oil demand by 8 million barrels per day, or about 8%.

But the global automotive industry truly changed forever when China announced they would end the “production and sales of traditional energy vehicles”, starting with very aggressive near term requirements that 4% of all cars sold in 2019 and 5% by 2020 be electric. That is over one million electric vehicles per year!

Two weeks later, GM announced that they would transition the entire company to an all-electric, zero-emissions future. Volvo had already announced plans to go all-electric by 2019 and VW said it would offer electric versions of all its vehicles by 2030. Many other manufacturers have followed suit with similar commitments.


Q: Will people want to buy that many electric cars?
A: It all comes down to economics. Electric vehicles based in Massachusetts have half the fuel costs of ICE vehicles, because electric motors are 5x more efficient than gas or diesel powered engines. And electric vehicle maintenance costs are also far, far lower. An ICE vehicle has 2,000 moving parts that need regular maintenance. An electric vehicle has just 20 moving parts. The largest maintenance cost for electric cars is replacing the tires. Tesla provides an 8-year, unlimited mileage warranty on the battery and drive unit.

Q: That’s great, but who can afford an electric car?
A: A friend of mine just bought a 238-mile range all-electric Chevy Bolt for $21,500. She took advantage of an electric car-buying program from Mass Energy called Drive Green. They find the best electric car deals in the area and eliminate your need to negotiate with the dealer. You just arrive with a check and pick up the car! That’s right, you can buy an electric car for around the average cost of a low-end ICE vehicle and without any dealer hassles.
Plus electric car prices are falling rapidly as battery costs decline. By 2021 all-electric cars will cost less than comparable ICE cars. And since the operating costs are already so much lower for an electric car, once the upfront price is lower, the real question will be – who can afford not to drive an electric car?

Q: What’s it like driving an electric car?
A: Electric car owners love their cars. It is an absolutely amazing driving experience. It is hard to overstate what a joy it is to drive in a quiet, vibration-free vehicle with smooth, instantaneous performance available at any speed. Handling is great. The car just sticks to the road due to the battery’s low center of gravity. And electric cars are safe cars – with no engine up front taking up valuable crumple zone space plus the battery’s stiff structure adding significant protection, electric cars earn the highest safety ratings. 98% of electric car owners say they will never buy another gas car!

Q: But how long does it take to charge?
A: Ten seconds. That’s all the time it takes to plug in after you arrive home. I’ve never needed to charge the car anywhere besides home – except when I’m on an overnight trip. And even then, a Chevy Bolt or Tesla can easily drive from Lexington to Burlington, VT or NYC without stopping to charge. On a recent trip to Washington DC, we needed to charge for 50 minutes along the way. And who wouldn’t appreciate a chance to stretch their legs and have some lunch on a 7 ½ hour drive?

Let me ask you a question. How long do you spend every week driving to gas stations and standing in the heat or cold, in the wind, rain or snow, breathing fumes while you are pumping gas? It is wonderful waking up every morning knowing that the car is fully charged. No need to stop at the gas station on the way to work or your first appointment of the day. I saw a T-shirt that said, “I miss gas stations – said no EV driver ever.”

 

Mark Sandeen is the chair of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

 

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Lex Eat Together

THE POWER OF KINDNESS, COMMUNITY
AND A HEARTY DINNER

Above, Head Chef Bruce Lynn with the new LET spice cabinet. Below, some of the fresh food prepared each week by LET. COURTESY PHOTO


By Jane Whitehead

Every Wednesday afternoon, the community room at Lexington’s Church of Our Redeemer transforms into an elegant dining space. Volunteers wheel out round tables, haul stacks of chairs, spread tablecloths, set out bread baskets and water jugs and arrange flowers, to welcome guests to a three-course dinner, free to anyone in need of a good meal and companionship.

Since its launch in October 2015, Lex Eat Together (LET) has served more than 5,000 meals, welcomed an average of 64 guests a week, and built a network of over 200 volunteers. “I’m proudest of the community we’ve created,” said LET co-founder Laura Derby, referring to the wide range of backgrounds and ages among guests and volunteers.

It Doesn’t Matter Who You Are

On a Wednesday in late September, the LET menu included Udon Chicken Soup, Battered Pork with Tonkatsu Sauce, with sides of rice, Napa cabbage and butternut squash. Among the early arrivals for the 5:15 p.m. dinner were regular guests Ruth Amiralian and her friend Mary.

“Look at what we get,” said Amiralian, gesturing to the table setting, the flowers, the basket of assorted breads. “To be able to walk in and be greeted with such love, kindness and graciousness is unbelievable,” she said. And as a long-term worker in the food industry, she’s impressed by the high quality and presentation of the food. “They have fine chefs,” she said, but most importantly, “they do it with their heart.”

Volunteers make LexEAT Together possible! Clockwise from left: 3-Bruce Ward, Shailini Sisodia, Toby Ward, Daniel Palant and Barbara Palant.


“I think I have fallen into a little heaven,” said Mary. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you are – there’s a comfortableness, nobody’s haughty.” “This is our night out,” said Amiralian. “We could never afford to go out to eat.” She gives a warm welcome to a young man in his twenties who takes the seat next to her. He lives in neighboring Douglas House, a facility that provides independent affordable housing for brain injury survivors.

At another table was a group of Mandarin-speaking Chinese guests, all residents of Lexington’s Greeley Village, with their volunteer interpreter Ming-Chin Lin, who runs a senior daycare center in Billerica. “It’s very good to get together, we’re very happy, and we’re here to learn the culture and manners of America,” said Ziying Shi, who moved here over ten years ago from Shanghai to be with her daughter and family.

A Hard Place to be Hard Up

LET founders Laura Derby, Harriet Kaufman and John Bernhard saw how deprivation can escape notice in an affluent community, as volunteers with Lift Up Lexington, a group that supported homeless families parked temporarily in local motels. In 2104, having brought George Murnaghan of Redeemer’s vestry committee on board, they took a year to research and plan their response to the problems of food insecurity and social isolation in Lexington and surrounding towns.

After wide consultation with town officials and community groups, and research visits to other towns’ meal programs, including those in Concord, (where Harriet Kaufman volunteered for 25 years) Bedford and Chelmsford, the group inaugurated a weekly dinner in the newly refurbished community room at Our Redeemer, with its adjacent commercial kitchen. As an independent 501 (c) 3 non-profit with no denominational affiliations, LET pays rent for the space.

Helen Zelinsky with trays of colorful appetizers. COURTESY PHOTO


“It is a little-known, painful and rarely acknowledged truth that some of our neighbors go to bed hungry,” said State Representative Jay Kaufman, at the LET launch in October 2015. According to the non-profit Feeding America, one in ten people, and one in seven children in Massachusetts struggle with hunger.

Even in Lexington, where the average annual household income in 2015 topped $150,000, around 1200 residents live at or below the poverty level, some 200 households receive fuel assistance, over 70 residents use food pantries and eight percent of school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. And these figures likely understate the level of financial hardship in a high-cost town like Lexington. “People’s circumstances can change very quickly, with sickness, unemployment, or divorce,” noted Harriet Kaufman (no relation to State Representative Kaufman.)

Baked into the LET recipe from the start was a commitment to an open-door policy, and to respect for the privacy of all guests. At LET dinners, there is no sign-in, no need to give a name or address – though guests can choose to write their first name on a stick-on label at the welcome table. “Who needs to know if you’re from Bedford or Lexington?” said Head Chef, Bruce Lynn. “If you start asking questions like that, people feel uncomfortable.” Murnaghan estimates that around 60 per cent of guests come from Lexington and neighboring communities, with some making “quite long journeys on public transport” from towns further afield.

Waste and Want – The Food Link Connection

The flip side of the US hunger emergency (one in seven Americans is food insecure) is a colossal mountain of wasted food. That forgotten bag of salad lurking in your refrigerator is part of an estimated 52 million tons of food that end up in landfill every year, together with another 10 million tons discarded or left unharvested, according to ReFED|Rethink Food Waste (www.refed.com.)

Arlington-based food rescue organization Food Link, Inc., founded in March 2012 by DeAnne Dupont and Julie Kremer, seeks to combat this cycle of waste and want. Their mission is to divert potentially wasted food to people who can use it. With over one hundred volunteers and two paid staffers, Food Link organizes the daily collection of high-quality fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, bread and prepared foods that would otherwise be wasted from 12 local grocery and prepared food stores, and delivers this daily haul to 30 social service agencies serving people in need.

Kerry Brandin with strawberry soup. COURTESY PHOTO


In LET’s planning phase, Lexington resident and Food Link volunteer and board member Ivan Basch immediately grasped the potential synergy between the two projects. He offered to source a proportion of LET’s needs from Food Link donors, who include Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Panera Bread and other smaller specialty stores.

“They tell me what they want, then I get as much as I can from Food Link, and go shopping for whatever else is needed,” said Basch in a recent phone conversation. (Sometimes the source is as local as his garden, as in the case of a recent order of chives.) Under the oversight of Head Chef Bruce Lynn (who also volunteers for Food Link), LET’s chefs get their menus and weekly shopping lists to Basch by noon on Sundays, and he gathers as much as possible from Food Link, then buys the rest with an LET charge card.

Depending on the menu and on the week’s donations, rescued food makes up between 60 and 80 percent of LET’s food costs, Lynn and Basch estimate. Other costs include venue rental, kitchen equipment and insurance. Once a month during the school year, from September to June, LET also purchases a ready-prepared meal from the Minuteman High School Culinary Arts Program.

“I really love the Lex Eat model, because that’s a value-add to the rescue,” said Basch. “There’s so much love and proficiency in turning the rescued food into a fabulous meal,” he said, noting that LET is “about as far from a soup kitchen as you can get,” with its three-course menus and attention to attractive presentation.

Harriet Kaufman turns rejected bouquets into elegant centerpieces. COURTESY PHOTO


Volunteer Task-force

After retiring as Director of Lexington’s Community Education Program, Robin Tartaglia moved to Cambridge, and followed her passion for food by signing up for a ten-month full-time professional training program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. From LET’s launch Tartaglia has been part of the team of around six vetted volunteer chefs who run the LET kitchen, plan the menus, devise the detailed shopping lists, organize the volunteer assistant cooks, and oversee the presentation of every plate.

“I’ve learned a great deal,” said Tartaglia. “I’ve learned how to cook these large quantities, and I do love managing the very eager and highly qualified volunteers we get in the kitchen.” (Like most other LET volunteer slots, the Assistant Cook spaces fill up weeks ahead of time, as people vie to wield the industrial-size salad spinner or learn what it takes to make Moroccan Chicken for 70.)

Although adults cook and serve the food, in the set-up and clean-up crews, high-school and middle-school students work alongside parents and grand-parents. Luisa Ozgen regularly superintends room set-up, with a sharp eye for detail and a set of laminated instruction cards to make sure the day’s crew forgets nothing, from switching on the hot water urns to bagging the fresh fruit that every guest takes home.

A healthy meal, lovingly prepared. COURTESY PHOTO


“I like to feel needed, and it’s great to see all these people I’ve known for two years,” said Libby Wallis, head of the clean-up team, as she cheerfully surveyed the remains of chicken noodle soup and battered pork (all food waste is composted or saved for animal feed.) As on many Wednesday evenings, Ed Lidman was methodically feeding the industrial dishwasher. “This was a job I knew,” said Lidman, laughing. By day, he works on data quality at Beth Israel Hospital.

With ten people drying steaming silverware, piling clean plates, rolling away tables, stacking chairs and vacuuming the dining room carpet, clean-up is done by 7:00 p.m. “There’s nothing more basic and human than sitting down and eating with someone else,” said George Murnaghan, “and it’s wonderful to be able to make that happen every week.”

 

To volunteer or donate to Lex Eat Together:
www.lexeattogether.org
To volunteer or donate to Food Link:
www.foodlinkma.org

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