Monday, July 22, 2024


Janet Murray, the former executive director of Food for Free, died April 12 at 90. She was a key player in transforming a food-rescue operation with a single van into a thriving, well resourced organization serving 150,000 people annually across Eastern Massachusetts. A celebration of life will be held 2 to 5 p.m. June 15 at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church, 400 Harvard St., Harvard Square, Cambridge.

Murray grew up in Boston and received a bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University and a master’s degree from Boston University. After teaching at Walpole High School, she returned to Boston University to attend the School of Social Work, but refused to write a thesis, seeing it as irrelevant to caring for others. Despite not earning the degree, she went on to serve the community, first at Boston City Hospital and then at the Cambridge Food Co-Op and Food for Free. She was also a member of the Ward 5 Democratic Committee and served on the boards of the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee and the nonprofit Cambridge Camping Association, according to an obituary posted April 27.

Food for Free takes uneaten but still-good food from local supermarkets, farms, restaurants and universities and distributes it to people in need. Murray’s “core partnership values of being dependable and reliable resulted in many of the impactful relationships we have today with grocery stores and other food distribution partners,” according to an in memoriam essay from Food for Free. “Her efforts ensured that we consistently prioritized nutritious food over just ‘feeding’ people when they were hungry. This commitment extended to ensuring that the food we distribute includes healthy produce.”

Tina Alu, the director of the Cambridge Economic Opportunity Committee, spoke of Murray’s commitment. “You could see her every day in her weightlifter belt lifting crates off the truck,” Alu said, “we’re in it together and no one is above getting dirty.”

She was “practical and joyful,” the in memoriam essay said, once choosing to have cheap plastic folding tables in her office because, as Murray put it, they “they are easier to move aside for dancing.”

Alu added that Murray was a huge baseball fan, and said that “the kind of fan she was for the Red Sox was the kind of fan she was for everyone in the community – whether they were doing well or they weren’t.”

“It’s just amazing to think the work she did will live for so many years,” said Alanna Mallon, Cambridge’s former vice mayor, who also worked at Food for Free for six years. “What she did at Food for Free was revolutionary.”

Murray received an award from the City of Cambridge in 1995 that called her “the woman who comes to mind when you think about creating compassionate peace and justice in the neighborhood and in the world.”

She is survived by her husband, Jeff, her sister, Frieda, her three children, Anne, Jacob, and Ruth, and six grandchildren.

The feature image on this post is from Food for Free via Facebook.