LEOMINSTER — Nourishing the community is at the heart and soul of the inspiration behind the new Spanish American Center food truck, which was celebrated with a ribbon cutting on Monday.
Dozens gathered at the Spruce Street nonprofit social service agency to christen the brand-new food truck, including SAC staff, board members, and volunteers, city police, representatives from City Hall, City Council, Making Opportunity Count, and North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce, local and state dignitaries, and community members.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern has long been an advocate for raising awareness about hunger and food insecurity and taking action to address those issues. The politician, who helped secure $110,000 in federal funding that was used to help purchase and outfit the truck, had high praise for longtime SAC Executive Director Neddy Latimer and her crew and thanked them for their tireless community efforts.
“This will help a lot of people in this community and how can you say no to Neddy,” McGovern quipped, drawing laughter from the crowd. “This is important work. This is what really matters.”
The total cost for the food truck was $125,000. Latimer said SAC covered the difference and state Rep. Natalie Higgins secured $50,000 in state funding that was used to purchase a food delivery truck.
“They say it takes a village and it really does,” McGovern said, adding that every person gathered for the celebration “had a part in making this happen.”
Both vehicles will be used to bring hot meals and fresh food out to members of the community who are dealing with food insecurity, homeless, families, and more, “nutritious food” for people who may not have access or transportation to grocery stores or the means to acquire fresh fruits and vegetables, McGovern pointed out.
Latimer was overcome with emotion when she thanked everyone involved, especially McGovern, Higgins, and state Sen. John Cronin and state Rep. Michael Kushmerek for their ongoing support and “for making a dream come true.”
“Thanks for joining us in this celebration,” she conveyed to the crowd. “This morning tears came to my eyes because I couldn’t believe this was happening. Words cannot express how I feel this morning, we are very happy and grateful.”
She went on to compliment the members of the SAC Board of Directors, whom she called “an asset to the community,” for their dedication and hard work, including board President Migdalia Velez.
“We all know that food insecurity is a big deal in our community,” Velez stated. “This is going to be instrumental in reaching those people who may not be able to get to the Spanish American Center. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.”
SAC Information and Referral Advocacy Specialist and Elder Services Coordinator Mickey Guzman, who has been with SAC for 27 years, introduced each speaker and shared that SAC is the “oldest minority Latin program in Worcester County” and has been around for 57 years. Latimer has been with SAC for over five decades and was recently selected as a Mount Wachusett Community College Service Above Self award honoree for her dedication and commitment to serving the community.
“Its amazing, what a journey it’s been for Neddy and the Spanish American Center,” said Mayor Dean Mazzarella. “[We] could have never dreamt this would come together … it’s all really come full circle.”
Mazzarella spoke about the financial challenges so many people face these days — high rent, the rising cost of groceries — “an indication of how tough it’s been” and that “it’s been difficult for families.”
“The Spanish American center is there to help everyone,” he said. “Today is part of that connection to make that happen.”
Earlier in the program McGovern said that “the idea of anti-hunger shouldn’t be a radical idea” and noted that there are “nearly 40 million citizens in our country don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
“Food ought to be a fundamental human right,” he stated. “Look at where the gaps are … maybe others will follow your lead. This food truck will really allow the Spanish American Center to expand their operation and help more people.”
Latimer’s husband Jose Latimer, who is the SAC Manager of Food Services, said he’ll be helping with the food truck along with other SAC team members.
“I drove it, it’s really good,” he said with a smile about test driving the food truck. “The food we are going to prepare for the people out there is homemade, nothing frozen or canned. This is going to be beautiful for the community. There’s nothing like warm food.”
After not one but two ribbons were cut and Latimer invited all the SAC team members up for a photo, Mazzarella noted that this kind of collaborative community work is typical in Leominster.
“Neddy, we can’t thank you enough, you’re our leader we follow you,” he said while presenting Latimer with a congratulatory citation. “All the agencies here work so well together, there’s nothing we can’t get done. Maybe it’s food that brings us together.”
Cronin’s Director of Communications Jake Simopoulos gave Latimer a citation on behalf of the senator, who was unable to attend the ribbon cutting, and Tracy Gagnon presented her with another from the chamber of commerce.
“Food is love,” Gagnon stated, to which Latimer replied, “food is medicine.”
Delicious scents wafted through the air and attendees were invited inside the center to feast on a sampling of the kinds of cuisine the food truck will be serving to community members such as rice and beans, empanadas, chicken and pulled pork, garden and potato salads, fresh fruit, drinks, and a homemade cake with a light up toy food truck perched on top.