LEOMINSTER — As migrants fill the shelters in North Central Massachusetts, the Spanish-American Center is doing their best to help out by ensuring every new family can find hot meals every day if they want them.
Executive Director of the Spanish-American Center (SAC) Neddy Latimer said the majority of the people that they’ve been serving have been coming from the area motels being used by the state for emergency shelters, which includes shelters in Leominster, Ayer, Westminster, and Gardner.
However, the motels don’t provide a whole lot to work with when it comes to making food.
“They have no ability to cook in their motel rooms, which offer only a microwave and a small refrigerator,” Latimer said.
SAC, headquartered at 112 Spruce St., feeds people seven days a week, serving three hot meals a day, from 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at multiple locations including in the Community Room in the Leominster location. They also deliver hot meals directly to the shelters as well.
Meals are prepared by cooks under the leadership of a kitchen manager and a head cook.
“We use volunteers who are interested in helping us with this massive effort,” Latimer said. “Although it is a very big undertaking, the Spanish American Center is pleased to utilize our commercial kitchen to help these immigrant families, the homeless, and anyone in need.”
Latimer explained how these migrants are refugees – in the U.S. because of natural disasters like earthquakes or because of an unstable and violent political environment.
Approximately 350 people are served at each meal, equating to more than 1,000 meals a day plus snacks. Each of them are culturally sensitive for a diverse population and nutritionally valid with a carbohydrate, protein, fruit or vegetable, and some dairy. Ingredients are purchased at local grocery stores and a large amount of canned food and rice are ordered directly from Goya Foods.
Donations are received on a weekly basis from local supermarkets such as Aldi, BJ’s, Hannaford, Walmart, and others. They also welcome monetary donations from individuals and area businesses and corporations.
SAC works with the local agency Making Opportunity Count (MOC) to reach the immigrants, as MOC is in charge of the temporary housing and wraparound services they are providing on-site to to migrants at the motels. SAC delivers directly to the motels in addition to having meals available at their own center.
They will feed anyone in the community at their headquarters and through the use of their food delivery truck and their canteen food truck. SAC also reduces food waste by working with local nonprofit Growing Places and area farmers for composting.
“Our mission is to help those who need it and during these particular times, human needs are huge in all communities, both in the United States and across the world. We try to do our part in our small corner of the earth. We are very proud to say that we…are oriented to the needs of those we serve, and we continue to do with love and compassion the same we did in our early years,” Latimer said.
The Spanish American Center was founded in the late 1960s by a group of local citizens and a priest from St. Leo’s Church.
“They were concerned about the lack of services for and needs of the Latino community, at that time mostly from Puerto Rico,” Latimer said.
Today, SAC, called “the Center” for short, serves the Twin Cities of Leominster and Fitchburg and surrounding communities, with most of their clients from those cities. At least 90% of their clients have Latino heritage, but this now includes many more countries beyond Puerto Rico.
Programs include community-based domestic violence services for affected families in the North Central region, a food pantry, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, an afterschool program for tweens and teens, a summer program for kids, classes for seniors, food service for the homeless, services for emergency basic needs, and information and referrals to other agencies and organizations in the area.
These programs are funded by state and local and local government and “an array of foundations” as well as other donations from the community, Latimer said.
SAC can be contacted by phone at (978) 534-3145 and online at spanishamericancenter.org.