Northborough releases ARPA funds for Community Meals

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Northborough releases ARPA funds for Community Meals
Volunteers were busy preparing the meals for the Community Meal distribution in May. (Photo/Laura Hayes)

NORTHBOROUGH – Community Meals has received funding after the Board of Selectmen released American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for the program. 

The selectmen released $15,000 for the program during their Nov. 7 meeting. 

Northborough is slated to receive a total of $4.5 million in federal ARPA funds. 

However, how to spend the town’s ARPA funds has been the topic of discussion at both Board of Selectmen meetings and in the community. 

Community Meals was among the organizations who attended a listening session held by the town over the summer, advocating for how they could use the funds. 

Community Meals is a long-running program that offers free meals and social connection to community members. For years, the meals were served at Trinity Church with different churches and civic organizations taking turns preparing and serving the meals.

When COVID-19 hit, organizers pivoted and asked local restaurants if they could make a packaged meal for $5. In June 2020, they began offering curbside meals and have since provided them every Wednesday. 

Organizer Martha Michalewich said Community Meals has served between 120 and 130 meals every week for the past two years.

The organizers have sounded the alarm about the need for funds. With cost increases, some of their vendors are charging Community Meals $6 or $6.50 for a meal. Michalewich estimated it cost between $600 to $720 a week. 

In May, Community Meals told the Community Advocate that they would run out of funds in June without additional support.

Michalewich told the selectmen that the meals were fully-funded through the community’s generosity as well as grant funds. 

“We had been fully-funded for a long time, but now obviously our money is running short,” said Michalewich.

Community Meals had recently received a $10,000 grant that began in October, which reimburses the organization for the money they spend. But Michalewich said it is specifically for seniors who use the service. 

With an estimated annual budget of $37,000, Michalewich said between the $10,000 grant, $1,000 in donations and the originally proposed $12,500 in ARPA funds allocated from the town Community Meals could make it to March or April. 

However, Selectman Jason Perreault said he would be comfortable releasing up to $15,000 in ARPA funds to help bridge the program into the late spring or longer. 

“I certainly do support this program. I think the need is well-justified, and I believe there is a legitimate urgency here to ensure that the program is secure over the next several months,” Perreault said.

Perreault said the selectmen could revisit it once they conclude their process to examine all of the projects under consideration for ARPA funds.

However, he voiced concerns about sending a message to project proponents “that they need to artificially elevate the urgency of their request” to get quicker action by the selectmen. 

“I think there’s a special consideration here for this particular program, but it shouldn’t be taken as a signal that other proposed projects should suddenly develop greater urgency than has already been communicated in their initial submissions,” Perreault said.