Thanksgiving at the YWCA Cambridge’s Tanner Residence included food from Down Home Delivery & Catering packaged for pickup by clients. (Photo: YWCA Cambridge via Facebook)

This year has tested the limits of nonprofits. But as the Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition said throughout 2020, “Nonprofits Don’t Quit.” It made us change the way we work at YWCA Cambridge, and most importantly, the way we serve the community; and from making sure clients have masks to dropping off groceries to high-risk individuals, nonprofits truly never stopped.

As a member of the nonprofit community I had the chance to see the important work in action. There are so many Cambridge nonprofits that went above and beyond in their responses to the pandemic, and though I can’t capture it all, I have identified a few Cambridge nonprofit highlights from the year:

Cambridge Community Center: Beginning in April, the Cambridge Community Center launched a food and supply pantry in its gymnasium with the support of the Central Square Business Improvement District. By the end of May, it had already given out more than 20,000 pounds of food to more than 5,000 individuals, with the help of 100 volunteers.

Cambridge Community Television: In March, Cambridge Community Television ensured the community was always informed on Covid-19 updates. In addition, CCTV provided free virtual classes that helped seniors understand different online programs and platforms during the quarantine. In May, in partnership with city councillor E. Denise Simmons and School Committee member and vice chair Manikka Bowman, “Black Cambridge & Covid-19” became a regularly scheduled program.

Cambridge Local First: When the federal government launched the Paycheck Protection Program, Cambridge Local First worked with local small businesses to help with paperwork, understanding qualifications and answering questions they had around the program. Throughout the year, the organization has worked tirelessly to create resources and help small businesses keep their doors open during this economic crisis.

Cambridge Women’s Center: In early March, to encourage individuals to stay home and stay safe, Cambridge Women’s Center closed its physical space but quickly moved its emotional support and resource referral helplines to a virtual space. By Aug. 3, the Cambridge Women’s Center was safely able to open its doors to provide to-go food, supplies, Wi-Fi and laptop use.

East End House: In April, East End House started an online after-school program for children ages 5 to 10. By May, it launched emergency child care – one of the first such programs to open in the area. In addition, it provided emergency food and infant necessities to families in need throughout the year.

Food for Free: On March 17, Food for Free launched a Covid-19 Relief Grocery Delivery program, serving 2,000 households with fresh produce and groceries with the help of 50 to 80 volunteers daily. In December, the organization cut the ribbon on a new space provided rent-free by an East Cambridge developer, Urban Spaces. This space has helped Food for Free continue its pandemic grocery assistance.

Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House: In May, Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House launched the Food Box Saturday program, which handed out 3,500 boxes of fresh food. In addition, Margaret Fuller provided $40,000 in rent and economic assistance and helped 400 individuals with online job and food assistance paperwork.

Starlight Square: With the help of several nonprofits, the Central Square Business Improvement District turned a parking lot into an outdoor theater for people to enjoy entertainment and the arts safely throughout the pandemic. This space served as a place for small businesses to highlight their work, a nonprofit theater and dance space to perform and practice, and for families to safely enjoy an outdoor social activity.

Transition House: As soon as the pandemic hit Cambridge, Transition House knew a stay-at-home advisory would lead to a rapid increase in domestic violence cases. In response, the organization launched Quarantined but Not Alone, a citywide initiative to make sure everyone knew its hotline number and ways to get support. Transition House also worked to ensure clients were safe during the pandemic by providing families with tablets for school and entertainment while at home, and a monthly $100 gift card to Target for needs that arise.

YWCA Cambridge: In March, YWCA Cambridge worked to ensure every client at the Tanner Residence – single-room occupancy housing for more than 100 women – and Renae’s Place for Homeless Families had the personal protective equipment to stay safe. The organization worked quickly to move its Girlx Only Leadership Development program online to keep providing mentorship and support its seventh- and eighth-grade girls and non-binary students. At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, YWCA Cambridge launched five events that served more than 225 individuals throughout the summer on racial and social justice topics such as allyship, civil rights and the harms of white feminism.

Cambridge’s nonprofit community is the heartbeat of this beautiful city. If you have the means to do so this holiday season, consider a gift to one of these essential organizations that keep our community safe, fed, healthy and cared for during this critical moment in history.

Whitney Mooney is fund development manager at YWCA Cambridge and a shelter advocate at Transition House, a domestic violence shelter that was the first on the East Coast and second in the country.

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