Fresh Flavors and Full Hearts – Women’s Lunch Place

On a crisp fall morning, chef Inna Khitrik stirred a huge skillet of aromatic Mediterranean soup over the stove at Women’s Lunch Place, a Boston-based day shelter that serves more than 1,800 unhoused women each year.

“We ask for just their first names, no other questions,” said Khitrik, who became the Kitchen Manager in July 2023, tapping into her 24 years of culinary experience. “It’s a treasure to have fresh vegetables and herbs to serve our guests.”

Six days a week, Women’s Lunch Place provides breakfast and lunch to visitors for a total of 400 meals a day. They also provide takeaway meals for other shelters in the area. Khitrik and her five-person kitchen staff are supported by many volunteers who bustle around the space, chopping ingredients, plating servings, and bringing them out to patrons:  adult women of all ages, ethnicities, and life experiences living in extreme poverty.

Since 2022, Gaining Ground has been thrilled to provide the scratch kitchen at Women’s Lunch Place with an abundance of fresh, organic produce, typically donated within 24 hours of harvest. This year, we have contributed 6,859 pounds, or 5.6 percent of our total yield. That’s almost a quarter more sustainably-grown fruits, herbs, and vegetables than in 2022.

“We wouldn’t have organic food without donations,” Khitrik said. “It’s just so expensive.” 

Nancy Armstrong, Senior Director of Operations and Programs, said the partnership does more than nourish guests. It also helps to free up resources for the nonprofit to address other pressing issues that unhoused women face, like untreated mental health issues that affect an estimated 60 to 80 percent of Women’s Lunch Place patrons.

“It’s a very vulnerable population,” Armstrong said.

In January 2023, there were 1,803 unhoused people in Boston and 1,131 unhoused families, according to the city’s 43rd Homeless Census. 

Although hunger tends to precede homelessness—as people are increasingly forced to choose between paying rent and buying groceries—the situation becomes far more dire once an individual or family loses access to a permanent residence. 

Yet shelter and food are two of the most fundamental needs we have as humans. That’s why Women’s Lunch Place in Boston has put healthy, scratch-cooked meals at the heart of their wraparound services. 

During our visit, Khitrik listed off some of her creations, including butter chicken, shakshuka with green tomatoes, farm-fresh salad with green goddess dressing, and steamed fish with farm-fresh carrots and parsley. There is always a special soup. Guests can serve themselves at the coffee station, and refresh with a glass of “spa water,” infused with fresh fruit and herbs. Khitrik also sends patrons home with shopping bags of produce when ingredients arrive in quantities too small for batch cooking. 

Meals may bring women through the door, but once they arrive, they’ll find much more at their fingertips, like a hot shower, laundry facilities, legal advocacy and housing resources (including translation), mental health support, SNAP registration support, and a warm, welcoming space where they feel safe and at ease.

“The best chance we have to help people is to have them come in,” Armstrong said. “Food security is the very base of the needs pyramid. Once hunger is relieved, we can help people take action in other areas of their lives.”

Photo credits: Women’s Lunch Place