Haley House: Bridging Communities and Creating Change - with Food

Haley House is a soup kitchen, a farm, a live-in community, a café & so much more. Since COVID-19 hit, the organization has had to ramp up & reimagine many of the things that make it a pillar of the Boston community.

June 4, 2020

Haley House logo
From its founding days, Haley House has believed that food has the power to bridge communities and create positive change. The organization’s soup kitchen, where there is no divide between the kitchen and the seating room, is one way that Haley House puts its belief into action. Guests are welcome in the kitchen, and those serving the meals often will make themselves a plate and join their guests at the table. However, when the COVID health crisis struck Massachusetts, the staff at Haley House had to rethink its operations. Now guests line up outside the building and collect their hot meals in takeout containers one by one. Many of the regulars have not been by the soup kitchen in months because of the quarantine and the fact that homeless shelters are not allowing their clients to venture out for meals. But these challenges have only motivated the Haley House community to show up even more. Normally the soup kitchen prepares about 700 meals a week, but today, by cooking around the clock, it is preparing some 1,200 meals weekly.

Decisions about operations continue to be a fluid conversation at Haley House, and the discussions almost always circle back to the idea of connection. How can staff and guests still have meaningful interactions while following social distancing precautions? This is a question team members ask themselves regularly, because during these uncertain, isolating times, connection is something that people are craving more than ever. Taking this into consideration, some former Haley house staff have begun to write notes that are included in the hot meals for guests, reminding them of the important role they play in the community.

Opening first in a basement apartment, Haley House was founded in Boston’s South End in 1966 as a place of shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Today the organization operates in multiple neighborhoods with expansive services. The soup kitchen and food pantry houses a live-in community, a group of volunteers who are committed to running the daily operations in return for room and board. Haley House’s Housing Program is made up of 100+ units of permanent, affordable housing spread throughout the South End. Roxbury is the site of the nonprofit’s one-acre organic farm, which in addition to providing food for the local community as well as the soup kitchen, runs seasonal educational programming for youth and neighbors. Finally, situated in Nubian Square in Roxbury is the popular Haley House Bakery and Café, a social enterprise that offers meaningful employment opportunities for those with barriers to traditional employment and cooking classes for youth through the Take Back the Kitchen program.

The farm temporarily discontinued its volunteer and youth programs, but today the head farmer, Anna, is single-handedly maintaining the plot so that Haley House can continue to distribute healthy produce to the community. Anna commonly has youth from surrounding neighborhoods stop by, expressing a longing to be back in the garden. Turning them away is heartbreaking, but seeing their enthusiasm for the work in the garden is a reassuring sign that the programs the farm has been offering have had an impact and will be eagerly sought out when they can reopen. Another example of how Haley House is creatively re-designing its programs to stay connected with the community, is the “Take Back the Kitchen” program, a partnership with the Dudley Library to offer virtual cooking classes for families. The classes, which are free and open to the public, will run through June and the program will explore this model in the future. To learn about the many ways you can get involved in the work of Haley House, including virtual concerts, poetry readings and volunteer opportunities, please visit haleyhouse.org.


This is one in a series of stories about grantees of the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. These Greater Boston nonprofits are on the front-lines of our community's response to this crisis. While we are all struggling to cope with the hardships of the coronavirus, these organizations, their leaders and their staff are serving the most vulnerable among us. Boston Indicators, the Boston Foundation’s Research Center, is providing valuable data and analysis for these stories. Visit tbf.org for more on the COVID-19 Response Fund.