Monday, August 3, 2020

City Councilor Edwards to speak on charter amendment: August 6

Proposal filed by Councilor Edwards would modernize Boston’s budgetary process, expand participatory budgeting

WHAT: The Boston City Council’s Committee on Government Operations will hold a hearing on a proposed amendment to the city charter filed by Councilor Lydia Edwards. Councilor Edwards filed the amendment in response to the calls for systemic change in Boston and nationally. 

Under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapters 43B, section 10, subsection (b), a member of the city council may suggest a charter amendment. 

The proposal by Councilor Edwards will give Boston residents a choice in what the city’s budgetary process should be and, if approved by voters, would give taxpayers a greater say in how their tax dollars are spent by allowing for an expanded participatory budgetary process. 

During Thursday’s hearing the council will review the proposal by Councilor Edwards and suggest possible changes to it. Once the ballot question is finalized and approved by the city council it will be reviewed by the Attorney General to determine its constitutionality. If ruled to be constitutional, Boston voters will decide the future of the city’s budget process during the November 2021 municipal election.[1][2][3]

WHERE: Streaming live at 

WHEN: 10 a.m., Thursday, August 6

For more information: please contact Ricardo PatrĂ³n -

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Mayor Walsh announces ordinance allowing plastic bags extended to Sept. 30

BOSTON - Tuesday, July 14, 2020 - Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the City of Boston's executive order to exempt all establishments from the plastic bag ban ordinance will stay in place until September 30. 

This transition period will allow stores to use up any single-use plastic bags that they have purchased during the emergency. The five-cent per bag fee will also not be in effect.
"In March, we suspended the City's ban on plastic bags and the 5-cent fee for paper bags in order to give both stores and customers more flexibility during this difficult time," said Mayor Walsh. "While we're extending that suspension to best serve businesses and residents, I want to be clear that the Boston Public Health Commission and the state Department of Public Health have said that reusable bags are safe and people should feel free to use them."
On October 1, all provisions of the plastic bag ban ordinance will come back into effect. This includes the elimination of most single-use plastic bags and the requirement for the five-cent fee. 

The ordinance still allows the ISD Commissioner to grant exemptions on a case-by-case basis. Residents in Boston are now able to use reusable bags if they would like to.
More information about the City's plastic bag ban is available on The City's previous guidance on allowing plastic bags during the COVID-19 health emergency is available on

Monday, July 6, 2020

Councilor Edwards files city charter amendment to expand Council's budgetary power

BOSTON (July 6, 2020) - Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards has filed a proposed amendment to Boston’s city charter that would give the Boston City Council budgetary powers equal to those of the mayor. 

The historic proposal was filed under a provision in state law that allows local elected officials to propose amendments to city charters which has never been used before.

“I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about how to answer the calls for systemic change and investment in our future,” said Councilor Edwards. “An annual up or down vote alone on the mayor’s budget cannot bring about the long term change that is needed and that people are calling for. That change will not come from any one vote or annual budget. It’s time to break the wheel of Boston’s budget making process. This will take time, research, negotiations, and sustained conversations about what we want to invest in as a city. Until we change the budget process, we don’t have an opportunity
to have those conversations in a meaningful way.”

The proposed amendment specifically targets the budgetary powers of the City and is separate from the complete charter reform Edwards proposed earlier this year. "Boston can move forward on specific reforms to our budgetary process even as we pursue a democratic process to examine the entire charter,” added Councilor Edwards. “That process will require much more organizing and eventually candidates will have to run for an opportunity to write the charter. I am still committed to writing a clear, accessible, complete charter but right now people are asking for direct impact and influence on our budget. We can give them that power by modernizing and democratizing the budgetary process and expanding participatory budgeting, which would give residents greater control over portions of the budget."

Under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapters 43B, section 10, subsection (b), a member of the city council may suggest a charter amendment. After a hearing and final vote by the city council the Attorney General must approve the question's  constitutionality and then it will be put to the voters to decide in November 2021. This proposal would be the first known charter amendment to be implemented using this process.

If Boston voters approve this amendment next fall, the Boston City Council and the Mayor would share power over the city’s budget. This includes the ability to create proposals for the city’s capital and operating budgets, change line items within the proposals, allocate parts of the budget for a participatory budget process (voter direct allocation), and amend the budget for Boston Public Schools.

Additionally, this change would also give the city council tools to more quickly respond to the need for budget cuts in times of fiscal austerity and allow for public deliberation on what services could or should be reduced without lasting harm. This change also allows for earlier budgetary deliberation should either the Mayor or Council desire to do so.


East Boston Branch of the Public Library now open for pick-ups

Need some summer reading books, dvds or some beach books? 

The East Boston Branch Library can help. The East Boston Branch Library is now open in the afternoon for holds pickups as part of the BPL to Go program.  Patrons can request items with their library card at, email  or by calling 617-536-5400.

When the items come in, they will receive notification with instructions how to schedule a pick-up.  

The library is open for scheduled pickups, Monday-Thursday from 2 to 6 and on Fridays from 1 to 4.  

Books and other materials can also be returned during these hours.   

If you have others questions or need more assistance, please email

For more information please visit:

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Now + There Asks: What does East Boston need right now?

Join Now + There Thursday, June 25 at 12:30 pm as they take their weekly online conversation series, “N+T Asks,” into eight Boston communities to find out: "What does your neighborhood need right now?" Next up is East Boston, Boston's largest migrant neighborhood. N+T Executive Director Kate Gilbert will be joined by Gladys Oliveros, Director of East Boston Main Streets, and local artist Veronica Robles for an active dialogue investigating current community challenges and ongoing systemic issues that affect East Boston’s past, present, future. Join the discussion to learn ways to help meet the critical needs of the neighborhood and explore opportunities for and examples of responsive creative expression.

Each "N+T Asks" conversation features a 30-minute conversation with a community leader and an artist followed by a 30-minute open discussion. Joining the conversation is free and open to all. 
Learn more and register here

Friday, June 12, 2020

Update from the Italian American Alliance: Meeting with the Mayor in the Works

For Immediate Release
June 12, 2020

A scheduled Sunday afternoon rally at 2 p.m. by Italian Americans at Christopher Columbus Park to respond to the recent vandalism of the Christopher Columbus statue has been cancelled. 

In its place, Boston's Mayor Marty Walsh will meet with the leaders of the Italian American Alliance who had scheduled the rally. 

Dr. Frank Mazzaglia, Communications Officer the for the Alliance, praised Mayor Walsh for his sensitivity to the feelings of Italian Americans across the state who were outraged at the statue's vandalism. 
The Columbus statue was paid for through the private donations of citizens and associations in the North End.

Leaders of the Italian American Alliance expect a positive outcome concerning the statue's future following an honest dialogue. In addition to its 2,280 members, the Italian American Alliance is also an umbrella association which includes most prominent Italian American organizations in Massachusetts.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

CANCELLED: Italian American groups to rally to restore Columbus statue




Boston's North End


Leaders of prominent Italian American organizations wasted no time to react via teleconference Wednesday evening to plan appropriate action following the cowardly vandalism and subsequent removal of the Christopher Columbus statue that graced the North End’s Columbus Park.

Representatives of the Sons and Daughters of Italy, UNICO, The Federation of Italian Organizations, the St. Joseph’s Society, the Pirandello Lyceum, and the Italian American ALLIANCE were unanimous in their agreement to hold a rally to demand that the statue be restored and returned to its rightful place of honor.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh pledged to keep the Columbus statue on Columbus Park and the rally will remind the Mayor of his pledge.

The General Chairman for the event, Sunday, June 14 at 3 pm at Columbus Park in the North End, will be James Di Stefano, President of the Italian American ALLIANCE.

The Conference represented the largest Italian American organizations in Massachusetts and in the following days, others are expected to participate.


Editor's Note: The following is taken from a lecture by noted anthropologist Carol Delaney, Ph.D. The series will provide Rally participants useful background.

Most of the sections here are presented in a few short pages so as to allow you to easily digest the valuable information she offers.This comes to you in 6 sections.

Part I A Starting Point and Part II The Voyage are longer than most because she sets the groundwork. Happy reading ! Carol Delaney is a magnificent woman and a great researcher.

                  CAROL DELANEY, Ph.D.
As you know, many people are calling to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day –indeed some cities and towns have already done so.
I have no problem with an Indigenous Peoples’ Day but I am very much opposed to it as a replacement for Columbus Day. We need to learn more about Indigenous peoples, but people also need to know more about Columbus.
Most people, even professors, know very little about him. Before I began my research, I too, knew hardly anything except “that in 1492 he sailed across the ocean blue.” I never imagined I would write a book about him.
Here is how it began.
In the fall of 1999 I was teaching a class at Stanford called “Millennial Fever” in order to observe the apocalyptic frenzy that was gripping the United States over the turn of the millennium. We also explored the history of the religious underpinnings of apocalyptic millennial thought. In one of the readings I came across a tiny footnote about Columbus’s apocalyptic millennial beliefs.
I was stunned. I had never heard of this, nor had any of the historians at Stanford. I was intrigued since a lot of my academic work has focused on religion [critically].
I started to read some books about Columbus but quickly became dissatisfied because NONE of them mentioned his religious beliefs, certainly not his apocalyptic beliefs. Instead they seemed to treat him as if he were just like us and only his clothes and his ships were different.
And that is a problem.
I am an anthropologist and our purpose is to try to understand people in their cultural context because that influences how they think and how they act. People during Columbus’s time didn’t think of separate/different religions –there was only one true belief and way of life –the Christian way. Other beliefs and lifeways were simply false.
Anthropologists generally study living cultures [my own fieldwork, for example, was conducted in a Turkish village] but if “the past is another country” as the saying goes, it seemed reasonable that I could visit Columbus’s world. I began to read a lot about 14th and 15th century Europe to get a sense of the world into which he was born.
1.    First, the universe was very small and the earth was at the center—the sun, the moon, and stars revolved around the earth.

2.    The earth had only three parts: Europe, Africa, and Asia –thought to have been peopled by the 3 sons of Noah!

3.    Jerusalem was at the center where the 3 parts met.

4.    People believed that there were only 7 millennia to the Earth’s existence – one millennium for each day of creation and people thought the End was near. Columbus had twice figured out how many years were left.

5.    Before the End of the world, Jerusalem had to be in Christian hands for that was where Christ would come in judgement. It was the duty of Christians to evangelize and try to convert non-Christians so they could be saved. It was an outrage that Jerusalem was held by Muslims.

6.    Although a number of crusades had been launched to recapture it, none had succeeded. As a boy, Columbus witnessed a crusade launched from Genoa –perhaps that is where he first got the idea.
[BY THE WAY: Columbus makes clear in several places that he was born in Genoa. In his will, he left money in the bank in Genoa to care for the people in his lineage…”since from it I came, and in it I was born.”]
People thought the end was near because of several events: The Bubonic Plague took the lives of 25 to 50 million people, and there were still outbreaks of it. There was also a schism in the Catholic Church whereby there were two Popes – one in Avignon and one in Rome and the schism was not resolved until the 15th century.
But the capstone to all of these turbulent events was the conquest of Constantinople by Muslims in 1453. This was devastating especially to the Genoese because they had a large trading colony there.
Muslims were clearly in the ascendant. Now they blocked not only the overland pilgrimage rout to Jerusalem but also cut off the trade route to the riches of the East that had been established by Franciscans and especially Marco Polo. Columbus’s copy of Polo’s Travels is well annotated and is one of the nine books from the library that still exist.
Columbus had a large library, and he knew three languages – Genoese, Latin, and Castilian Spanish. Genoese was not a written language so Columbus’s writings are mostly in Castilian Spanish and a few in Latin. Yet I still hear people, including TV news people, claim that Columbus was illiterate!!
Marco Polo, as well as the Franciscans, believed that the Grand Khan of Cathay [what we think of as China] was interested in Christianity, for he had asked that friars be sent to instruct him and his subjects. Some, like Polo and then Columbus, began to think that perhaps the Grand Khan could be persuaded to launch a crusade from the East as the Europeans marched from the West to recapture Jerusalem!!
Because the overland route to the East was blocked, most thought the only alternative was to sail down the coast of Africa to reach the Indian Ocean. This was the route explored by the Portuguese. Columbus had sailed with them a number of times but he was already thinking of going West across the ocean because Marco Polo said the landmass of Asia was huge and thus the ocean separating it from Europe must be quite narrow.
While sailing to Iceland for the Portuguese Columbus had experienced eastward flowing currents. Later when he passed the Canary Islands he felt westward flowing ones and decided that would be the place to start a westward crossing. Columbus petitioned the Portuguese to sponsor the voyage but since they were making progress taking the route around Africa they were not interested.
Columbus did not give up: he sent his brother to England while he went to Spain. His wife had died and now Columbus had his young son Diego in tow; together they sailed to the Port of Palos de la Frontera, from where, 7 years later, the first voyage would depart. They arrived sometime in the summer of 1485 and climbed up to the Franciscan monastery of La Rabida. Columbus had always been partial to the Franciscans and his friends noted that he was a passionate man of ardent faith. For example, Bartholome de las Casas knew Columbus and said this about his faith:
    “He observed the fasts of the church most faithfully, confessed
and made communion often, read the canonical offices, like a member of a religious order, hated blasphemy and swearing and was most devoted to Our Lady and St. Francis and was grateful to God for benefits received and was especially devoted to the idea that God should deem him worthy of aiding somewhat in recovering the Holy Sepulcher.”
Columbus and Diego were well received at La Rabida and lived there for several years while the monks worked on getting him an audience with Queen Isabella.
[I have visited La Rabida and the current monks are very proud of their connection to Columbus; they have preserved, relatively intact, several rooms where Columbus spent time.]

Editor's Note: Readers interested in this series may purchase "Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem" by Carol Delaney at your local book store. If it's sold out, have them order a copy for you from Free Press - a Division of Simon & Schuster.        

     Part 2 THE VOYAGE
by Carol Delaney, Ph.D.
               Columbus met Isabella in May 1486. She was clearly taken with him. She, too, was partial to the Franciscans, and was also interested in the recovery of Jerusalem as her grandfather and uncle had made that pilgrimage. She was quick to agree with Columbus’s plan because the Pope had given to Portugal all the land along the coast of Africa [as well as the right to enslave any Muslims or pagans they encountered.] That decree is known as Romanus Pontifex.

         Isabella submitted Columbus’s proposal to a committee for further study. It would be a long wait. During this time, Columbus met Beatriz de Harana. Though the daughter of peasants she was educated and could read and write –qualities that appealed to Columbus. They soon became a couple and in 1488 their son Ferdinand was born.

         In 1490 the Commission rejected Columbus’s proposal. So did a second commission. Columbus had been waiting 6 years and thinking about his project for a decade. He decided to go to France and was already on the road when a confidant of the Queen rushed to find him and brought him back telling Isabella she was losing a great opportunity at little cost.

         She signed the papers in April11492 and told the people of Palos to prepare ships for the voyage. As you know these were the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

         Once underway Columbus began to keep a diary –very unusual at the time, since not all sailors could write, and even if they could, they jotted down only wind, direction, and speed. At the beginning of the diary he recapitulated his understanding of the voyage. He wrote that he hoped to meet the person who “is called the Grand Kahn which means in our Spanish language “King of Kings”. To see how the conversion to our Holy Faith might be undertaken because so many times he had asked for men learned in our Holy Faith in order that they might instruct him in it and how the Holy Father had never provided them; and thus so many people were lost, falling into idolatry and accepting false and harmful sects. And you commanded that I should NOT go to the East by way of land. But by the route to the West,….by which route we do not know for certain that anyone previously has passed.”
The purpose of the voyage was to set up a trading post to obtain gold and spices that would finance the crusade. There was absolutely no intention of enslaving or killing the people belonging to the greatest empire in the world.

Finally, on August 3, 1492 the small fleet slipped away from Palos into the unknown. Columbus was confident and began to think of himself as Christ-bearer, like his namesake Christopher, carrying the Christian faith across the waters. But the men were afraid they might run out of food before they reached land and may also run into monstrous races described by Pliny.

Their anxiety increased when the rudder of the Pinto came loose on their way to the Canaries. Then there was an eruption of a volcano on the nearby island of Tenerife – Not good omens. But finally, they set out on the unchartered ocean and sailed due West.

Late in September they got entangled in the Sargasso Sea and saw some birds so they thought they might be approaching land But the crew became anxious and demanded that if they did not find land within three days, they should turn around before they ran out of food. Amazingly, in the next couple of days there were more signs that they were getting close. Late at night on October 11 Rodrigo de Triana, on board the Pinta called out, Tierra –Land. They sat out the night in great anticipation.

Their vigil was rewarded. Early morning a veil of mist opened and Columbus and crew ”saw an island. ..full of green trees and abounding in springs with a large lagoon in the middle.” Columbus was relieved: he had crossed the ocean no one thought possible and done so in 33 days—a feat that few sailors in small boats have surpassed –and had instinctively chosen the route that such sailors continue t follow.
October 12 is the date that Columbus wrote in his Diary but –he was using the Julian calendar whereas we use the Gregorian which was not adopted until 1582. Between the two is a difference of 10 days.
So, actually our holiday commemorates a day when he was still at sea.



President James Di Stefano
Chairman of the Board Dr. Francis Mazzaglia
Treasurer John De Pinto, CPA
Secretary Marisa Di Pietro
Vice President for Special Projects Florence Guidara
Vice President for Organizational Development Dr. Dean Saluti

2020-2022                                         2019- 2021                                   2018-2020
Marisa Di Pietro                                Dr, Domenic Anmara               Marjorie Cahn
James Di Stefano                               Jeaninne Camarda                   John De Pinto  Denise Furnari                                      James Kearney                         Dr. Dean Saluti
Florence Guidara                               Frank Pasciuto                           Antonio Sestito
Dr. Francis Mazzaglia                         Ross Zagami

Luciana Burdi
Rosario Cascio
Yolanda Cellucci
Charles Centore
John Christoforo
Atty. Aldo Cipriani
Michael Columba
Marilyn Devaney
Richard DeVito Sr.
Stephen Di Angelis
Kathy Di Stefano
Rep. Paul Donato
     Pio Frittitta
Martin Gabriella
Virginia Gardner
 Atty Ye Huang
       Ron Hill
 Michael Lomazzo
Dr. Anthony Lorri
James Matarano
Atty Cynthia Pasciuto
Larry Pellegrini
Angelo Rossi
Joseph Russo
Therese Sapienza
Marissa Sestitio
Domenic Susi
 Rudy Viscomi
Kathi Young

SOSTENITORI (Advocates/Recruiters)                                                      Joseph Barbieri
Chris Byrnes
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro
Ray Di Fiore
Tom Damigella
Dottie Donofrio
John Margri
Angelo Piccardi
Wayland, Waltham, and Weston—Virginia Gardner
Arlington – Ross Zagami
Framingham – Joseph Barbieri/ Frank Mazzaglia
                                         Marblehead – Jeaninne Camarda
                                         Marlboro – Dan Caruso
Newton – Virginia Gardner
Salem – Jeannine Camarda
Wellesley – Frank Mazzaglia
Winthrop – Enzo Amara
Massachusetts – Frank Mazzaglia
                   AMICI – Executive Producer Ross Zagami  Chair Antonio Sestito
                   ASIAN LIAISON- Atty. Ye Huang
                   COLUMBUS DAY PARADE LIASON – James Tierney
                   EDUCATION: Chair Dr. Dom Amara
                   CAMPAIGNS – Chair James Di Stefano and Frank Mazzaglia
                   COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Dr. Frank Mazzaglia
                   LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE: James Di Stefano and Frank Mazzaglia
                   LEGISLATIVE CAUCUS – Rep. Paul Donato

Thursday, May 21, 2020

As the Covid-19 crisis engulfs East Boston, the YMCA's pursuit of community wellness shines through

Shifting gears, East Boston YMCA stays true to its mission: Community Wellness; Cargo Ventures' donation arrives at critical point for YMCA

The historic landmark building where the East Boston YMCA calls home is quiet. Its 2800 members remain at home and not at its Bremen Street facility or at its satellite location on Ashley Street.

The exercise classes are gone, for now. So are the teenagers who check in over the weekend for programs. The applications for the Y's summer camp are up for discussion. And so are the swimming lessons, the YMCA's traditional staple, blocks away at the Umana Academy. Like many other social service agencies, the YMCA is facing a loss of revenues to support its programs.

But the YMCA is far from closed. And it is certainly not down and out. It is ground zero for providing community support in a neighborhood that is severely swamped by the COVID-19. According to the Boston Public Health Commission, East Boston has the highest percentage of coronavirus cases in the city.

The austere brick building which was once the Boston and Albany engine house and located along the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway has emerged a critical center of activity not only distributing food but also providing child care for front line workers.

"We're the only child care facility in East Boston for front line workers for free of charge," notes YMCA Executive Director and East Boston native Joseph Gaeta. Moreover, the Y is spearheading food distribution, along with the City of Boston and Project Bread, to make sure children and families receive healthy meals during the pandemic here in Eastie.
"A lot of our parents are doctors, nurses, EMTs, UPS drivers, Post Office employees and Stop and Shop workers. All of these workers are essential. Being able to provide our front-line workers a safe place for their children while they support our community is very important to us at the Y."

Little did Gaeta know that he'd be leading relief efforts in a major health crisis in his hometown. "I worked my way through every job to be executive director," he said. "I don't ever expect to distribute personal protection equipment (PPE) and face masks."
The YMCA has always stressed health and wellness in its programs. Some of the ones now in a holding pattern include not only the group and personal exercise routines but the LiveStrong programs for cancer patients and diabetes control. The transition to providing nutrition is natural for the East Boston YMCA.

Some of the Y's members are still paying their dues so that they can keep the programs going. Members are aware their dues enable free programs to feed people. "They know the money is going to feeding children," explains Gaeta. They are also busy making calls to check up on fellow members.

But unfortunately, the needs increase.

"Right when we think we have a steady stream to fill the need, it doubles the next day," says Gaeta, "We serve about 20,000 meals a week just out of Bremen Street," says Gaeta.

"Sometimes we run out and have to turn people away or refer them to another partner. Because of the generous donation from our friends at Cargo Ventures we are able to fill gaps and extend our reach to families directly when we do run out of our daily meals."

Cargo Ventures, the industrial real estate and logistics firm, stepped up to the plate with a major donation to the Y just when the crisis broke. The Cargo Ventures donation enabled the Y to purchase gift cards for its members and the community.

"Cargo Ventures is pleased to help out this extraordinary organization," says Pat Capogreco, the firm's liaison to the community. "The staff members at the Y are working hard every day so that needy families in East Boston are fed. They are doing a tremendous job. As in East Boston resident and employee of Cargo Ventures, I am grateful that I can get help for the YMCA."

The YMCA is also using its resources to extend support beyond East Boston. Gaeta says its Ashley Street location has doubled up as a citywide kitchen staffed with two chefs that provide meals. The first chef also provides halal meals for East Boston's growing Muslim population while preparing 200 to 300 meals each time he cooks. The second chef is working with the city of Boston to produce 500 meals not only for East Boston but Dorchester and Roxbury.

"It's hard to figure out what's next," says Gaeta. He notes that the summer camp might take place during Phase 2 of the governor's reopening plan and maybe some semblance of normality not much later for online fitness, perhaps as early as June 29. The summer camp program draws 300 local kids.

The agency supports a pre-school program for 93 children, weekly programs for 75 seniors and afterschool programs for 200 children.

Teleconferencing online has kept everyone connected and in shape. Members have access to virtual fitness options that are streamed live and archived for usage on-demand.

Visit the East Boston YMCA's web site here.

You can support the Y with an online donation here.

Read more local news at

Photographs courtesy of the East Boston YMCA.

Walsh announces distribution of $4 million to support small business in every neighborhood, in most impacted industries due to Covid-19

New platform created to help businesses source personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies to protect employees and customers as economy begins to reopen
(BOSTON - Thursday, May 21, 2020) - Continuing a policy of rapid, equitable, and transparent relief and support from the COVID-19 pandemic to all Bostonians, Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that nearly $4 million in debt-free grants have been distributed to over 1,100 small businesses in every neighborhood across the City of Boston through the Small Business Relief Fund, including the $2 million distributed to businesses earlier this month. The businesses receiving grants represent industries most-impacted by closures, policies, or general loss of revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic throughout every neighborhood in Boston.

"I've said it many times: small businesses are the heartbeat of our economy, and they provide residents with the services they depend on every day," said Mayor Walsh. "Through the Small Business Relief Fund we have been proud to support Boston's small businesses with a swift and direct infusion of funds through a fiscally responsible and equitable system that will help businesses stay open, pay employees, and strengthen our local business districts."

Of the nearly $4 million that has been distributed, the top five industries funded represent small businesses in the most-affected industries, including hospitality, personal care, arts and recreation, retail, and healthcare and social assistance (home childcare, family services, personal and home care aide, etc). Of the businesses receiving grants so far, 95% have 15 or fewer employees, 52% are owned by people of color, 49% are women-owned, and 46% are immigrant-owned. Grants from the Small Business Relief Fund have been crucial to the survival of many Boston businesses, and serve as a lifeline for businesses that experienced difficulty navigating or accessing financial assistance through the Federal CARES Act. A full list of businesses that have received funding is available here.

"I want to thank Mayor Walsh and the Economic Development Office for all of their hard work and help. Natalia and the Small Business team made the entire process very easy and the steps that the city has taken to keep us informed, as well as assist those in need, has blown me away. I've strengthened my faith in this city because of this experience," said Kandace Cummings of Anita Kurl Salon in the South End.

"Thank you for your support in this time of hardship, this gesture has made me feel part of a community," said Ramon Zapata, of the AlbertStyle Barbershop in Dorchester.

Managed by the Mayor's Office of Economic Development (OED), this fund was designed to disburse grants through a streamlined process without having to assume additional debt, which can be used to address rent, fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, lost sales, lost opportunities, and other working capital expenses. Through a combination of City, Federal, and private funds, a total of $7.5 million has been made available to fully fund all remaining eligible grant requests that were submitted during the application process. 

To further assist the City's small businesses, the City of Boston has created a new platform to help businesses source the personal protective equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies they will be required to have available in order to ensure the safety of employees and customers as industries begin to reopen. Along with industry-specific reopening requirements, the page includes a list of self-identified, local suppliers of PPE and cleaning supplies, information on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' vendor database, and partner organizations helping to connect businesses with vendors.

As business owners, employers, and employees navigate an evolving COVID-19-related assistance landscape, the Economic Development Office has created a Federal Assistance Guide, Financial Relief Handbook and FAQ document, all of which are continuously updated. Small Business conference calls will continue every Tuesday at 3pm to communicate policy updates, answer questions, feature relevant City of Boston departments, and troubleshoot the ecosystem of funding available from the state, federal, and private industry. 

The City of Boston has created a number of useful guides and resources for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The Open Businesses in Boston and Support Boston Restaurants platforms have helped businesses to publicly share that they are open and direct residents into supporting local establishments. The above resources and more industry-specific guidance are accessible on For all coronavirus updates from the City of Boston, please visit

Monday, May 18, 2020

Answering the call in a crisis, East Boston Community Soup Kitchen delivers for families

Cargo Ventures pitches in when it matters

In 2016, Sandra Nijjar found herself without a job, a stark challenge for a resident where the cost of living in Boston increases every day. But unemployment wasn't an obstacle. If there was not a job out there for her, she came up with an idea and created one for herself although it was not a paying job but it certainly was a dream to help the most vulnerable in a more consistent manner.

However, after about four months of being unemployed, Nijjar was recalled from her previous employer as a seasonal and was given Tuesdays off and her pay was prorated so she could continue her soup kitchen's effort which she was not willing to give up on.

With a burning desire to help the neighborhood's homeless, she started the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen. Located at the Our Savior Lutheran Church on Paris Street, Nijjar grew a food pantry and soup kitchen that today serves 40 to 50 men and 250 families. "The help from East Boston is overwhelming."

Despite the growing prosperity that comes with new development, people living with food insecurity are growing and sometimes in the shadows. "I noticed that we have a population of middle-aged men without families and without small children who are addicts and live on the streets; and pretty much without any help, particularly the undocumented folks."

The soup kitchen is more than just food, she says. "My goal is to use food as a tool where men can then be connected to the services they need to become sober."
The East Boston Soup Kitchen also does a lot of advocacy work for its patrons such as making connections to existing services in the area when folks need a shower, clean clothes, detox services and even help with health insurance paperwork.
She says that she is blessed to have the support of the Our Savior's Lutheran Church and the many volunteers that have lent a hand over the years. "Everyone is pitching in."

Nijjar says the key to success is not only to be welcoming but non-judgmental. "No one is perfect and everyone has a story." She notes that some of her patrons suffer from childhood trauma or mental illness. The turn-arounds are tinged with sadness. "Once they are sober I don't see them anymore."

Like most small community-based human service agencies, Nijjar makes a dollar stretch. She collects perfectly edible food from local restaurants. "We really don't waste food here."

That challenge of organizing, setting up and securing community support for the pantry nearly four years ago, pales in comparison to what she faces today: How to feed the homeless middle age men in the age of the coronavirus one of the neighborhoods most besieged by the novel disease. East Boston has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 infections and the virus has hit minorities the hard.

On March 10 the kitchen closed. But Nijjar's work didn't stop then even though she didn't report to a kitchen anymore. She started getting the word out to local organizations and supporters such as Resurrection Church.

Any work during the shutdown required funding. It was just as the city was putting its stay-at-home policy in place that Nijjar received a call from Pat Capogreco, community liaison for Cargo Ventures, who asked "'How can we help?'"

The industrial real estate and logistics firm kicked in much-needed cash.  Food that was once prepared, served and consumed in the church basement was now made available by vouchers, gift cards and references to local eateries such as Taco Mex, Meridian Food Market, La Casa Del Pandebono. Cargo Ventures picked up the tab for all the meals without asking how much the meals would cost.

"Cargo Ventures is my life-saving angel to say the least. They reached out the first day we closed," says Nijjar.

"As an East Boston resident and Cargo Venture employee I'm very happy to be in a position to help out the soup kitchen which is helping people in the community who are in need," notes Capogreco.

Such help is inspiration for the future. Nijjar would like a more permanent place for the soup kitchen on this side of the Boston Harbor. Even though East Boston is a highly desirable place to live, it remains isolated. That makes it harder for the vulnerable who have to find their way to downtown Boston.

Competition for real estate is fierce but the East Boston Soup Kitchen has proved that it can overcome any crisis. By being there in the most trying crisis in modern times for the people who need it most, Nijjar, her band of volunteers, network of eateries and supporters like Cargo Ventures, have the will to make it happen.

"Sandra is very dedicated in her cause working hard to help people," says Capogreco.

To learn more about the East Boston Community Soup Kitchen, visit its website here.