Tag Archives: Cambridge

Bountiful Kitchen

22 Oct

Bountiful Kitchen, sprung from a pandemic, nurtured into a healthy meal delivery service

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Julian Cohen and executive chef Keenan Goodwin prepare meals for Bountiful Kitchen at Foundation Kitchen in Somerville. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Covid’s done much to fracture the restaurant business. There’s been a slew of permanent closings (Cuchi Cuchi, Flat Top Johnny’s, Bergamot and Inman Square’s Bukowski Tavern, among many) and with winter hibernations coming and Covid-19 infection rates on the uptick, silver linings are slim. But they do exist. During the spring, the Day reported on early business pivots by Pagu and Season to Taste as well as the launch of Bountiful Kitchen, a home delivery meal service. In April, Bountiful founder Julian Cohen was cooking out of a home kitchen and delivering hot meals to a boutique clientele in his Porter Square neighborhood, but taken the business to the next level, expanding his menu and delivery routes to include all of Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and select Boston neighborhoods. He’s also hired executive chef Keenan Goodwin, formerly of Fat Hen in Somerville, and moved to a formal commercial kitchen facility at the Foundation Kitchen on Washington Street, on the way to Sullivan Square.

Foundation Kitchen is a rentable shared space – a food startup incubator. Husband and wife owners Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak have two locations (the bigger facility is in Union Square) and a third in the works for Charlestown that will have a food and drink hall. The facilities gives people who want to enter the food business an easy leg up without having the huge financial burden of a storefront, a long-term lease and sunk equipment costs, Nagle said.

Bountiful Kitchen’s BBQ Turkey Breast with Old Bay Potato Salad. (Photo: Julian Cohen)

That makes sense for a scrappy business such as Bountiful. Cohen, a former barista and food preparer at Hi-Rise Bread Co., started the service on a whim after being laid off, while Goodwin was left out of the rotation when a slimmer Fat Hen reopened.

They’ve since evolved the menu at Bountiful toward a more symphonic complement of foods and flavors, Cohen said, as opposed to the early scramble, when things were assembled based on what was on hand. There’s now more collaboration and planning between owner and chef, and the two try to source all their foods locally.

Recent and current Bountiful Kitchen offerings in the $15 to $25 range include beef bolognese, crab-stuffed squash, brown sugar crusted salmon, lemon grass and coconut chicken stew, yellowfin tuna loins and roasted pork loin. There’s always a vegetarian option and sides, such as butternut squash soup and parmesan roasted Brussels sprouts. Like other delivery/to-go food services these days such as Hi-Rise and Pagu, Bountiful has pantry offerings; it also has wine pairings, which come through a partnership with The Wine Press. The wine comes with your meal. Delivery happens between 6 to 7 p.m. and the menu rotates daily.

Cohen and Goodwin do more than 120 meals a week – up from around 80 when Cohen launched – and plan to keep expanding. If you’re not on their delivery heat map, you and some neighbors can fill out a form to be added; Cohen said he is deeply customer driven. Most of his weekly queue are regulars who keep coming back.

“The food’s always cooked to perfection,” said Rachel Joffe, a Bountiful regular. “Delivery is pleasant, they give you advance notice, and the delivery persons are nice. They have accommodated my need/request to have the food delivered on the early side, and I appreciate their flexibility.”

Bountiful Kitchen has a weekly newsletter to let subscribers know each week’s offerings. The menu is also updated on a website with easy ordering.

The Powerful Coe

1 Oct

Catching up with Charles Coe, an enduring voice where streetscape changes but race issues linger

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Poet Charles Coe is the subject a film screening Wednesday as part of the 22nd Roxbury Film Festival’s opening night lineup. (Photo: Gordon Webster)

As noted in Sunday’s Film Ahead column, the 22nd Roxbury Film Festival kicks off virtually Wednesday, with “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show” by Yoruba Richen, about Johnny Carson stepping aside to let Belafonte host in the wake of race riots in the late ’60s, and the short “Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business” by Christine Turner.

What’s Cambridge-centric about the opening night lineup is the inclusion of another short: Roberto Mighty’s “Charles Coe: Man of Letters,” about the longtime Cambridge resident, poet and musician. If you’ve ever been to a Cambridge or Boston area poetry reading you’ve probably heard Coe deliver one of his truths in his signature baritone voice. Or you may have seen his recent photographic exhibit at the Boston Public Library, “What You Don’t Know about Me” (2018), or as part of Rashin Fahandej’s “A Father’s Lullaby” exhibit at the ICA last year.

Though Coe did not write poetry seriously until the 1990s and published his first collection, “Picnic on the Moon,” in 1999, to date he’s published three collections of poems, been a Boston artist in residence and earned an honorary doctorate – not bad for a guy who never got a bachelor’s degree.

“You know, I swear I was just buying notebooks and pencils with my mom for school,” Coe says, “and the I blinked and I’m turning 68.”

Coe, born in Indianapolis, dropped out of college and played bass in a rock cover band (Motown and Top 40) in Nashville, Tennessee, before making his way to Boston in the mid 1970s.


The trailer for Roberto Mighty’s “Charles Coe: Man of Letters”:Video Player00:0001:35


Before a nearly 20-year career at the Mass Cultural Council, Coe worked as a musician around the city and in the food industry. “I worked at a place called The Hungry Persian on Brattle Street,” Coe said.

It and every other eatery he named are no more. Being in the Hub for so long, Coe has seen a lot come and go.

And remain the same.

As a black man he’s experienced his fair share of infamous Boston racism, as captured in his poem “For the Ancient Boston Bar with Neon Shamrocks in the Windows, Recently Departed,” about an Irish bar where he was not welcomed. Coe said he was experiencing “great grief and dismay” anew over what is happening across the country. “Didn’t we fight those battles?” he asks incredulously. To Coe racism is like tuberculosis: “You think it’s contained and controlled, but you just need the right conditions for it to flare up. And that creature in the Oval Office is doing everything he can to set it off.”

Continue reading

Peaceful Protests in Cambridge

7 Jun

 

Protesters gather Sunday in Porter Square after a renewed spate of nationwide deaths of people of color at the hands of police. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Around 200 residents assembled along Massachusetts Avenue in Porter Square on Sunday to protest police brutality and ask for justice in the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis – and in countless other blue-on-black incidents nationwide. The video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd has sparked protests across the country, many turning violent as people join with uncertain motives and police respond.

Update from June 3, 2020: Police officers estimate that the protest “maxed out with about 100 participants,” according to Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police.

Curfews have been imposed in 40 cities; the National Guard has been called to 15. Social media is pulsing with videos of looting and police violence.

Not in Cambridge, though.

Chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go,” and “No justice, no peace,” filled the area as cars drove by, honking in support. Signs demanding justice and the end of police brutality joined a sea of “Black Lives Matter” placards.

The protest, organized by North Cambridge attorney Gerry McDonough through social media, was peaceful and without incident. McDonough, launching an activist group Stand Out Against Racism, or Soar, said the day’s event was one of many to come. At the rally portion of the event, he announced a day of action slated for Saturday, when smaller groups in neighborhoods would stage similar protests.

Luis Cotto, Mercedes Soto and Ángel Cotto pause after creating a chalk memorial on the steps of City Hall. (Photo: Luis Cotto via Instagram)

Other signs of protest popped up around the city, from a “BLM” tag for the Black Lives Matter movement spray painted on a building at Kirkland and Beacon streets to the names of people of color slain by police chalked on the steps of City Hall. The names stretched back at least as far as Amadou Diallo, killed in New York in 1999.  

One of the concerns of protests and demonstrations in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic is public safety and social distancing. All demonstrators present wore masks, but a 6-foot rule was rarely achieved.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said Saturday that she was planning an online vigil. “Facilitating a community healing process will be one of our most important jobs as elected officials, so we can collectively address the pain of this pandemic, the pain of this moment and the generational pain many of us carry in our bodies every day,” she said via social media.

Plans for the vigil, made public over the weekend, have it taking place from 5 to 5:30 p.m. Monday on cable Channel 22 and via Facebook Live. Details are here.

“Like many of you, I am navigating waves of anger and sadness as I think about [Floyd’s] life, his family and community – and about this country’s history of criminalizing blackness. George Floyd’s death should not have happened. May he rest in power,” Siddiqui said.

Work with City Manager Louis A. DePasquale and police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. is ongoing on “how best to keep our community safe from violence,” she said. “We must also work to keep people safe from discrimination and safe from displacement.”

Bard commented briefly on Floyd’s death as well. “Make no mistake about it, George Floyd’s death was the result of depraved indifference.” Bard said online Wednesday before expanding on his thoughts after the protest. Speaking to fellow law enforcement officials via tweet, he said, “I hope we realize that it will take more than words to correct this! Action, and only action will help to reverse this.”

Getting in two steel wheel in complicated times

31 May

Covid-19 makes bikes more important than ever; It also complicates everything about getting one

A line forms Saturday outside Ace Wheelworks between Porter and Davis squares in Somerville. (Photo: Marc Levy)

When gyms and parks were restricted and shuttered by the coronavirus shutdown, cycling saw a surge as a means of exercise, recreation and transportation – biking by definition has social distancing built into it, a sterling alternative to a crowded subway car where one good sneeze could have a devastating effect. As Massachusetts seeks to get back to normal, bikes will stay important for summer recreation and commuter options. Cambridge just announced a “Shared Streets” initiative to pair with Somerville, and over in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a “Healthy Streets” plan, safer paths encouraging new riders who were formerly deterred by the crush of regular motor vehicle traffic.

If you don’t have a bike and want to get on one, how do you do it with the Covid-19 restrictions still in place? One way is a bike share such as Blue Bikes, but most people will want the comfort and convenience of owning their own steel steed. Buying off Craigslist and the like is one option, but brings with it questions about bike size and other factors – including whether the bike was stolen. Bike stores offer professional advice and a better understanding of quality and cost, help for first-time buyers and assurance of help and service down the line.

Bike stores were deemed “essential” by Gov. Charlie Baker during the shutdown, and most in the Cambridge/Somerville area remained open. Now all are back online with the exception of Quad Bikes, which operates out of a Harvard-owned facility on Shepherd Street. During the stay-at-home mandate, maintenance and repairs were by curbside appointment, and it’ll be largely the same for the first phase of Baker’s four-phase return plan. One of the big challenges presented are hands-on sampling and test rides. Carice Reddien, owner of Bicycle Belle368 Beacon St., near Porter Square in Somerville, a specialist in cargo bikes, e-bikes and family-friendly extension bikes (and just reopened) said, “We’ve been doing socially distanced test rides outside the shop, and it seems to work.” Jason Paige, co-owner of Ace Wheelworks145 Elm St., between Porter and Davis squares in Somerville, whose shop was open for the duration, said, “We do a pretty thorough sales job on the phone, but the first time they ride it is when they pick it up curbside.” That model is flipped from before Covid-19, but Paige said the store has adopted a relaxed return and exchange policy to make shoppers more comfortable with a big purchase. “If you call with a price range and type of style, we’ll make something happen,” Paige said.

The bigger problem is supply and shipping in times of high demand. “Be patient,” Reddien said. “Supplies are low and shops are stretched thin trying to work in new and safe ways.” Paige said Wheelworks at one point had to stop taking orders over the phone because a salesperson would take an order only to have an online shopper beat them to the last SKU. (On the day that I wrote this, the website had a message saying “Sales temporarily suspended.”)

Other stores coming back are trying novel approaches to meet demand and their customer’s needs. Crimson Bikes, the Cannondale retailer at 1001 Massachusetts Ave., Mid-Cambridge, offers mobile visits to your home as well as curbside appointments; Cambridge Bicycle259 Massachusetts Ave., The Port, has something of what shop manager Josh Smith describes as an “Old West countertop service,” with accessories and helmets exhibited at the door for customers to review and try out. Cambridge Bicycle also offers limited test rides.

One thing all agreed on was that the shutdown has been both a boon for cycling. “More people now see cycling as a more attractive and viable thing,” Smith said. Paige said that he’s doing a lot more family sales, with overall sales in units notably up from last year, but accessory sales down. “Families are getting out and biking together,” he said. “That makes me emotional.”

The best way to buy a bike in these socially distancing times seems to start with online research, then a sales call before a scheduled test ride. And to remember, as Reddien said: “Be patient.”

Black History Month – Cambridge Notables

26 Feb

Black Bookmark Project highlights pioneers less known, but all worth taking a page from

An opportunity to remember William Henry Lewis, ‘great man’ of firsts

 

tmp-BHM1Joyce London Alexander, in an image from the Cambridge Black Trailblazers website.

This Black History Month sees the launch of the Cambridge Black Bookmark Project, giving young readers free bookmarks – photos on the front, biographies on the back – introducing more people to a generation of black trailblazers not yet given physical markers around the city.

The Cambridge Black Trailblazers project adds to and updates work begun by the Cambridge African American Heritage Alliance, which installed 20 markers citywide honoring the achievements of black leaders from the 1840s to World War II, said project coordinator James Spencer, representing a committee of another half-dozen people. The group printed 7,000 bookmarks, of which about 4,000 have been given to the school district. Others have gone to the City Council to hand out and to the families of the people being celebrated; a donation of up to 2,000 of the bookmarks to city libraries awaits permission, he said.

“This has been a labor of love … But this is just the beginning. In order to continue, the project will need additional resources,” said Spencer, a retired civil rights and diversity officer, describing plans for at least 20 bookmarks led by an initial seven.

Movers and shakers

The first batch includes Joyce London Alexander, who went from first black president of the CRLS student council to first black chief magistrate in the United States; Charles Leroy Gittens, the first black Secret Service agent and protector of U.S. presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gerald Ford before taking charge of all agency field offices; Elizabeth Rawlins, an educator who became a longtime dean at Simmons College; Leon West, who became famous as a chef in New Orleans; Roy Allen, a television producers and director who became the first black member of the Directors Guild of America; Henry Owens, the entrepreneur behind Green Moving; and civil rights activist Gertrude Wright Morgan, who recently got a street named after her in Canbridge Crossing – after work began on the trailblazers project.

“It is critically important that young people, as well as the larger Cambridge community, recognize the selfless and courageous contributions of these individuals in a generational period of painful discrimination,” Spencer said.

“This initial phase of the project was developed, researched, financed and launched by a committee of dedicated volunteers, with support from the Cambridge Historical Commission,” he said, calling sponsors – individual, corporate and philanthropic – vital to move the project forward from this hopeful start. Continue reading

Agassiz, what’s in a Name

21 Jan

Support builds for a ‘Baldwin neighborhood,’ removing racist association of Agassiz name

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School senior Maya Counter, right, leads a discussion Tuesday about changing the name of the Agassiz neighborhood. With her is Ann Charlotte Hogstadius, her mother. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A name change for the Agassiz neighborhood won unanimous approval this week at a community meeting, with the caveat by several voters that more conversation is needed.

The proposal to change the name to the “Baldwin neighborhood” comes from Maya Counter, a resident of the neighborhood and co-president of the Black Student Union at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. But it’s not new – Counter, a senior, came upon the idea her sophomore year while researching a history class project and learning of the “flawed science and racist beliefs” of namesake Louis Agassiz.

It’s also not an idea new to the neighborhood. In 2002, a School Committee vote renamed the Agassiz School on Oxford Street to address the same discomfort; addressing the neighborhood name might have followed, according to people active in neighborhood politics at the time, had not many of the students and parents who pushed for the change felt burned out by the effort.

The neighborhood’s Maria L. Baldwin School was known as the Agassiz School until 2002. (Photo: Marc Levy)

There was little disagreement Tuesday about Agassiz and the context of his legacy. The Swiss-born scientist who lived from 1807 to 1873 was famous for founding Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, but controversial for pushing racially divisive theories as science. He believed in polygenism, the idea that human races are of different origins, and that whites were intellectually superior to other races. He has been discredited for his racism, and his belief in creationism lost out to the evolutionary theories of contemporary Charles Darwin.

His name was taken off the local elementary school in honor of Maria Baldwin, who in 1899 became the first black female school principal in the Northeast – “the most distinguished position achieved by a person of negro descent in the teaching world of America,” W.E.B. Du Bois said in 1917.

It was at the school that the Agassiz Neighborhood Council met Tuesday to give Counter the “constructive conversation” she requested, and a positive reaction by the approximately 30 neighborhood residents and staff in attendance.

Maria Baldwin, circa 1885. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Wider involvement sought

But there were concerns about process after Counter announced she had reached out to Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and planned to present to the City Council at month’s end.

Many at the ANC meeting expressed a strong desire to be involved in the process and felt that one meeting in a neighborhood of approximately 6,000 residents – with only two dozen in attendance – was not enough. (To prepare for the meeting, Counter posted about the idea on the neighborhood social media site Nextdoor. As at the meeting, there was strong support for a name change, though also some challenges that “you can’t erase the past.”) Some people at the meeting were concerned that Counter was rushing to get the change done before graduation.

Some also floated the notion that perhaps the neighborhood was named after Agassiz’s wife, Elizabeth Cabot, a naturalist and the founder of Radcliffe College, and therefore the name might still be applicable. But correspondence from Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, stated, “The Agassiz neighborhood was named after the Agassiz School, which is now the Baldwin School.”

No clear-cut process

Renaming a neighborhood lacks a clear-cut process, despite the recent change of Area IV to “The Port.” There too, race played a role, as residents believed the term “Area IV” was a police designation (it was created by the city facilitate analysis of the then upcoming 1940 U.S. Census). The change was made official by a City Council vote in 2015 after several rounds of community solicitation. In that situation too, not everyone felt the process had been inclusive enough, said Lee Farris, a resident of The Port who is active in civic affairs.

The Agassiz change may be simpler. A policy order by city councillor E. Denise Simmons approved unanimously in April asks the city to review the names of streets, schools and public buildings “that may be named in honor of those who have ties to the American slave trade” and work on renaming them “as soon as possible.” Agassiz, while not a slave owner and on record as an abolitionist, could be linked to slavery for espousing the beliefs that enabled it.

“Why keep it?”

There is already some eagerness for a name change among the hosts of the Tuesday meeting.

In 2007 the nonprofit that provides after-school services, runs the Maud Morgan Arts Center, hosts the Agassiz Neighborhood Council meetings and provides other community services, was rebranded the Agassiz Baldwin Community – a half-measure that doesn’t sit well with Counter. “Why keep it?” she said in an interview before the meeting, referring to the “Agassiz” part of the name. “He thought she was biologically inferior. It’s disrespectful to her.”

At the meeting, the nonprofit’s executive director, Maria La Page, agreed that having the name “Agassiz” upfront was a burden for an organization that holds inclusion at its core.

The Agassiz neighborhood is between Harvard and Porter squares and touches on Somerville, defined by Massachusetts Avenue to the west and Kirkland Street to the south.

Murder Still a Mystery, One Year Later

3 Jan

 

District Attorney Marian Ryan steps aside at a Thursday press conference in Woburn so Elizabeth Dobbins can speak on the one-year anniversary of the death of her brother, Paul Wilson. (Photo: Tom Meek)

On the one-year anniversary of the killing of Paul Wilson, 60, in Danehy Park, law enforcement officials gathered at the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office in Woburn on Thursday to assure the public they continue to investigate – and to ask again for the public’s help in finding the killer.

Joining them was Wilson’s sister, Elizabeth Dobbins, who reflected on Wilson as big man with a big heart, and a man who valued family and friends. “He could connect with anyone and everyone,” she said, calling his death “incomprehensible and senseless.”

While there was little new to be revealed by District Attorney Marian Ryan and Cambridge police Deputy Superintendent Leonard DiPietro, it was made clear that a bat found at the scene of the crime was not used to kill Wilson.

“There is nothing that connects this item with the crime,” officials said. “A search of the park following the attack resulted in the collection of several samples of biological matter. Forensic testing has been conducted indicating that some of the blood found at the scene was animal blood; testing on further biological evidence remains ongoing.”

An image of Paul Wilson released Thursday by law enforcement officials.

Videos given to police by people in the area have not provided any answers, and Ryan said hundreds of park neighbors and visitors have been interviewed. “By revisiting this anniversary today, we are reminding the community of this crime and reinforcing the need for cooperation and information from the general public,” DiPietro added.

It was also noted that since the attack on Wilson, “investigators have also been made aware of some similar incidents that have occurred in Cambridge and other communities” but are not connected to his death, they said. “He was also found with his belongings on him, including an Apple Watch – suggesting robbery was not the motive.”

On Jan. 2, 2019, Wilson returned from work at IBM to the Porter Square T station and rode a Blue Bike home, parking it by his house on Sherman Street before walking through the park,  investigators said. Wilson was found by a passer-by shortly before 6:48 p.m. on an asphalt path near the Danehy Park parking lot and dumpsters, near New Street. He was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and pronounced dead from blunt force trauma at around 10:18 p.m. 

“There’s no reason to believe the crime didn’t take place where the body was found [and] there’s more reason to believe it did,” Cambridge Police Commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. said at a public meeting a year ago. “Mr. Wilson was found right under working lights in a well-lit area. That wasn’t the problem.”

The discussion of motive was similar to what was discussed a year ago.  Wilson was “brutally murdered,” Bard said, and Ryan said at the time that there was no reason to believe the intention of the attack, in which “most of the blows were to the top of the head,” was a robbery. 

The death continues to be investigated by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, state police assigned there and by Cambridge police. “We have made some progress but have not ye identified a suspect,” Ryan said Thursday, renewing a call for anyone with information about the incident to call (781) 897-6600.

People with information are also invited to call Cambridge Police at (617) 349-3300. Anonymous reports can be left at (617) 349-3359; sent by text message to 847411 (begin your text with TIP650, then type your message); or by email by visiting CambridgePolice.org/Tips.

Cambridge goes to 20 mph

30 Oct

Nearly four-fifths of city’s streets turn 20 mph with installation of 660 signs come November

 

Speed limit signs for 25 mph will become more rare in Cambridge this fall, as nearly 80 percent of streets fall to a 20 mph limit. (Photo: Acquaforte via Pixabay)

Beginning in November, the city will begin to reduce speed limits on nearly 80 percent of streets in Cambridge to 20 mph from the statewide 25 mph. The move comes as part of the city’s commitment to its Vision Zero strategy to reduce road deaths.

If a 5 mph reduction seems insignificant, a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety showed that pedestrians are almost half as likely to be killed or seriously injured if struck by a car traveling 25 mph versus a car traveling 30 mph.

The city enacted the measure in January when looking to expand areas designated as “safety zones,” which had been reserved primarily for roads passing by schools and senior centers. The rollout will see 660 “Safety Zone” signs erected starting in East Cambridge and spreading west over a loose three-month period. The map will be updated to reflect progress as the project moves along.

“We’ve heard concerns about speeding from people throughout the Cambridge community,” said Joseph Barr, director of the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department. “Reducing the speed limit is an important step toward addressing those concerns. This change will also inform the way that we design our streets and help support our ongoing traffic calming efforts.”

Nate Fillmore, of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, speaks about road safety to the City Council in February 2018. (Photo: Ceilidh Yurenka)

Bicyclists, who have testified to feeling at risk from sharing roads with speeding cars, embraced the announcement. “Changing to the lower speed limit is critical,” said Steve Bercu, a Cambridge resident and member of the board of directors of the Boston Bicyclist Union, “in that it impacts the design speed of all projects going forward.” Nate Fillmore, of the Cambridge Bicycle Safety Group, was more direct on the matter of design: “This change needs to be followed up on with citywide changes to the built environment that reflect the new speed, including narrower lanes, raised crosswalks and protected bicycle lanes on major streets wherever possible.”

One city councillor backing the initiative, Quinton Zondervan, hailed the move. “This will make our city much safer for vulnerable road users, allowing more people to walk and bike, leading to less pollution and a healthier community,” Zondervan said.

Addressing concerns of residents discussed on area listservs, vice mayor Jan Devereux added, “Of course, we will need enforcement to put teeth into this desire to slow down drivers – the lack of speed enforcement is another complaint I hear often. Automated enforcement by camera could help, and the council is on record in support of [a bill] pending on Beacon Hill.” Matters of privacy have always been a concern with camera use enforcement, though it’s the primary mechanism in place for cars without toll transponders on the Massachusetts Turnpike.

The big difference between the reduction to 25 mph from 30 mph made optional statewide a few years ago and this city reduction to 20 mph is that signs are needed to mark the deviation from the statewide default.

Enforcement, the city said, would be data driven as it always has been. “When in doubt, go 20 mph,” said the communication from the city.

Liam’s Lunches of Love

7 Jun

Mission of feeding homeless Lunches of Love leads Liam Hannon, 12, to GoFundMe fame

 

Liam Hannon, 12, begins a weekly food distribution in April to the needy in Carl Barron Plaza in Central Square. (Photo: Scott Hannon)

This week, 12-year-old Liam Hannon speaks before a worldwide gathering of top brass from GoFundMe, the for-profit crowdsourcing platform that hosts charitable causes and promotes do-gooders. Liam, a Central Square resident who’s become something of a celebrity for providing free lunches to the hungry and homeless each weekend, will be one of the “young heroes” attending the internal conference in San Diego to share his mission, success and vision – and beyond his years, boy, does the kid has vision.

A sixth-grader at the Putnam Avenue Upper School who is quiet and introspective beyond his years, Liam has served more than 4,000 free lunches to the hungry in the three years since launching Liam’s Lunches of Love. Inspired by his father Scott’s journey to Standing Rock, North Dakota, to protest a pipeline being sent though Native American lands, he started the venture with just 20 lunches packed into a small wagon. “I was nervous,” Liam said.“I didn’t have to be nervous, because they were thankful.” 

Scott and Liam Hannon prepare sandwiches for distribution in August 2017. (Photo courtesy of Scott Hannon)

Liam’s Lunches launched with PB&Js in hand-decorated bags; as word of the mission spread and the volume of lunches delivered grew, kids from across the country joined in by sending in hand-decorated bags to help the cause.

Almost every Sunday, Liam and Scott Hannon spend two hours preparing and packaging the meals before setting out to Central Square’s Carl Barron Plaza and, subject to time and logistics, making their way up to the Cambridge Common. “Never,” said Scott Hannon of those they serve, “has any of them ever asked us for money. Never.” The Hannons describe the project as being “judgment free.”

Liam’s Lunches of Love used a smaller cart upon starting in 2017. (Photo: Scott Hannon)

The lunches evolved into more easily mass-produced hot meals such as mac and cheese, soups and pasta. Because the cost of the lunches runs over $200 per weekly offering, Liam and his dad eventually launched a GoFundMe campaign. One of the early requests was for “a bigger wagon,” which pulled in a few hundred dollars. But awareness of Liam’s mission grew – Liam, who shuns the spotlight, has become the subject of media attention, including an award presented to him by actor John C. Reilly and Anderson Cooper nationally on CNN as well as local TV blurbs, a featured spot on a GoFundMe podcast and an appearance at a Celtics game – and the purse for Liam’s Lunches of Love skyrocketed to several tens of thousands of dollars.

A bit of help comes from GoFundMe itself, a company representative said. “We do this on a regular basis as part of our internal GivesBack program where every week, employees nominate a GoFundMe campaign that touches their heart, and if selected, a donation is made to that campaign,” the spokesperson said.

“Any time we get the opportunity to meet these extraordinary people in person, we not only welcome it, but look forward to it. These are the people who make all of us excited to come to work each and every day,” the spokesperson said. “We’re excited that one of our GoFundMe Kid Heroes will be spending time with our employees as we bring our GivesBack program to life.”

Asked about his classmates and the exposure he has received, Liam said, “Some of them help out, but most don’t really know about it. I don’t really talk about it.”

Liam sees his project growing even more. To that end, one goal he’s shooting for is the ultimate bigger wagon: a food truck. The father and son imagine free meals for the needy, quality food for pay for those who have means and jobs for those who need them.  “I want to stick with the model of going to them,” Liam said.

Of Start Ups and Pop Ups

8 May

Pop-ups such as Community Phone fill a void where view could be long-empty storefronts

 

John LaGue, with business partner James Graham, has moved Community Phone, a small phone service provider, into pop-up space in Harvard Square: a former Starbucks on Church Street. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Community Phone, a small phone service provider, has been in pop-up digs in the heart of Harvard Square for three months now, and may be out on the street by midsummer. That might be nerve-racking for proprietors with tightly focused strategic plans and warehoused inventory; the youthful founders of this startup aren’t worried at all. They’re month to month in the old Starbucks coffee shop on Church Street and, like the low-cost cellular plans they offer and tailor to customers’ needs, are adaptable, lean and flexible.

The company, incorporated more than a year ago by James Graham and John LaGue, 20-something Wisconsinites, began hawking its product on the street, but with help from the Harvard Business Square Association and executive director Denise Jillson, reached an agreement with 31 Church St. landlord Janet Cahaly. She had her own motivation: not having a storefront vacant for a long time before finding a longer-term commercial tenant that would pay market rates.“Landlords really do want to do the right thing,” Jillson said.

The Starbucks closed in November, while the Cambridge Artists Cooperative down the street announced in April it can no longer afford to stay in Harvard Square and will be gone by June 30. A basement-level Fire + Ice restaurant that closed in September 2016 has yet to be filled – though its signs are still up. The clothing store LF closed on Church Street, telling The Harvard Crimson that “Harvard Square is not a shopping destination anymore,” while keeping a Newbury Street location in Boston.

Community Phone, whose customers have an average age around 58, has installed a rotary phone to help test customers’ mobile phones. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Community Phone buys service wholesale from cellular networks such as AT&T and Sprint and passes savings on to end users. What’s special is the customer service, LaGue said. “There’s no waiting on a phone or in a long in-store queue. You just walk in and talk to one of us,” he said, literally helping an octogenarian with a cane enter to ask a question. “Plus it’s 100 percent hassle free. You don’t have to do anything – we take care of moving your plan and setting you up.”

The space is inviting, spartan yet cozy, with crate-like barriers and a café ambiance. Up front, a giant stuffed bear – nearly twice the size of an adult – greets customers, and old Starbucks Christmas decorations still frame the large window pane. The store keeps a classic rotary-dial phone (operating off the cellular network) on hand to dial the mobiles they set up, a way to test a plan and phone activations.

Community Phone’s primary aim is to make cellphone use affordable and simple. “Many of our customers are people over 55 who aren’t tech savvy,” and the average customer age is around 58, LaGue said. The other side of the customer base, now a few hundred thousand people, is small businesses and students who aren’t on family plans. The company offers flip phones in the $20 range, but also iPhones and other high-end smartphones with plans as low as $15 for unlimited calls and texting.

The real killer is data costs; LaGue cited an example of couple with a $240 monthly cellular bill. “They had a big data plan but hardly used much of it.” By dialing back the data plan and creating a family account, LaGue was able to cut their costs to less than $40 monthly. There are no contracts with Community Phone – like the company’s housing arrangement, it’s all month to month – and should it disappear tomorrow, the network providers would take over the service and accounts, though costs would likely increase by a small percent.

The company is looking to expand and offer new products, which likely means getting venture funding, LaGue said. For now, it remains on Church Street. “We are actively looking for a new location in Harvard Square, Somerville or possibly Back Bay. We are still trying to find the best way to help the most amount of people, and have several exciting partnerships in the works. No matter what, we’ll be available 24/7 over the phone and online as we always have been for our members in over 30 other states,” he said. Continue reading