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February 21. 2013 10:12PM

Nashua Soup Kitchen move is approved

NASHUA - The second time was a charm for the Nashua Soup Kitchen on Thursday, as city planners approved the organization's move to the VFW post at 2 Quincy St.

The vote came several months after the Nashua City Planning Board initially denied a different relocation proposal by the soup kitchen.

On Thursday, however, the board unanimously agreed the new site is a better fit for the human service agency.

"This will only be a soup kitchen and not a shelter," stressed engineer Richard Maynard.

He noted that at the current site on Chestnut Street, there is about 4,000 square feet of space, with the ability to serve 45 clients at a time.

The new location on Quincy Street offers 11,500 square feet of space, and the opportunity to feed 125 clients simultaneously, he said. Currently, clients are waiting in line outside of the soup kitchen to receive meals.

"We do not want people outside. It is not humane. It is not the right thing to do," said John Fisher, member of the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter's board of directors. "We do feel strongly this is the best site for us."

Fisher said his organization will not permit clients to loiter outside, adding they will be encouraged to enter the new facility immediately.

With the Nashua VFW Post 483 looking to downsize, and the soup kitchen hoping to expand, representatives from both organizations reached a tentative sale agreement they say will benefit both community service groups.

Dozens of individuals stood in support of the plan on Thursday, while a handful of opponents - mostly neighbors - spoke against the proposal.

"I have nothing against feeding the people," said Diane Dolbeare of 6 Quincy St., who said her major concern was the traffic and parking in the already congested neighborhood.

Her landlord, Elizabeth Munyu, also voiced concern for the safety of the clients, families and children who use the soup kitchen, maintaining the Quincy Street neighborhood is incredibly busy.

There will be more activity at the building as it operates as a soup kitchen rather than a VFW, Dolbeare said, arguing she already has difficulty exiting her driveway because of vehicles parked directly across the street.

Thomas Ireland, planning board member, said it was an emotional decision the board made several months ago when it rejected the soup kitchen's initial proposal to convert a warehouse on West Otterson Street into a food service establishment. However, Ireland said, the newest plan seems to provide a better outcome for the Nashua Soup Kitchen and its clients.

"Nobody wants to go to the soup kitchen, but it happens . it is a situation where we all have to come together," said Mark Gordon of Brook Street, a former employee of the soup kitchen. "I think it is a win-win situation for both sides."

Catherine Shanelaris of Shanelaris and Schirch law firm in Nashua warned city planners about the existing parking problems near Quincy Street.

"I believe that it is being seriously underestimated," she said, adding her clients often complain about a lack of parking.

Soup kitchen officials maintained that while some clients do drive to receive meals, the vast majority of them walk.

In addition, the agency has only seven employees, along with volunteers, said Fisher, contending the 15 parking spaces at the Quincy location are adequate.

"I have no problem with them," Abby Bird of 3 Quincy St. said of the soup kitchen and its clients, who stressed she is not in opposition of the move. However, she described the on-street parking in that area as atrocious, saying it must be addressed.

Lisa Christie, executive director of the Nashua Soup Kitchen, argued that the current site on Chestnut Street is also a busy area, noting there is no private parking at that location.

Several aldermen voiced support for the relocation.

"I think it is the epitome of community partners working in true collaboration," said Mo Daniels, an advocate for the disenfranchised.

The VFW will remain in operation in Nashua but has not yet found a new home. The future of the existing soup kitchen facility also has not yet been determined.

khoughton@newstote.com


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