Summer St. Hub: Inside Food Link's new home

Food Link's new hub at 108 Summer St. Food Link's new Hub at 108 Summer St.

From 1992 to 2018, 108 Summer St. meant spark plugs and oil filters, among the NAPA Auto Parts sold by the Xenos family.

Now the boxy, beige, 7,000-square-foot building next to Arlington Liquors has been reshaped into Food Link's gleaming Hub for collecting and distributing rescued food.

The site that was a business supporting the carbon culture has become a nonprofit aiming to alleviate hunger and contribute to environmental sustainability.

During a 40-minute tour, co-founder DeAnne Dupont reflected over the past Covid year, which has seen food collection double. "Julie [Kremer] was just amazing at finding food," she said of her partner for nine years. The relationship "with Julie and me shows that this had to be done by two people."

From 2 to 250 volunteers

What began with two people on March 22, 2012, has expanded to an estimated 250 volunteers and an immense record of rescued food.

Opening March 2, the new Hub corrals all Food Link operations and administrative offices. "Everyone is excited to work together in one location for the first time, especially after operating during the pandemic in temporary digs," in two spots in town, she said.

Dupont estimates that in 2023, Food Link's impact across eastern Massachusetts will:

  • Divert 2 million pounds of food annually from the waste stream;
  • Deliver enough food to our community for 1.6 million meals annually; and
  • Tailor deliveries to meet the dietary, cultural and scheduling needs of our partners.

Walking through the new Hub is to see the results of generous donations, funding through a variety of sources and a construction loan via Leader Bank. The amount raised as of March 1 was $2.7 million. Another $550,000 remains.

Dupont, a slight woman with a pleasant demeanor, leads me past four masked workers loading boxes of food. Her narration does not betray her roots in New Orleans, where he family ran a pharmacy.

Energy-efficient Hub

She points to triple-pane windows and the 10-inch-thick walls, now jammed with cellular and foam insulation. The energy-efficient measures enclose a storehouse of cast-off food.

DeAnne Dupont, left, and Julia Kremer in familiar roles.DeAnne Dupont, left, and Julia Kremer in familiar roles.

"Our food-rescue mission dovetails with a sustainability and environmental viewpoint," she said.

In one room, a mini-washer and heat-pump drier await piles of towels, which volunteers use to clean surfaces. A $5,000 state grant helped pay for this feature

On the building's west side is a lift. On the east side is a ramp.

In the vestibule is a 300-square-foot refrigerator, which Dupont calls her "pride and joy." Before you venture into the coldest spot, you pass through cold storage, a mere 34 degrees. Beyond a further heavy door, the temperature is zero, and I can see my breath.

In storage are cardboard boxes marked "MM," for Menotomy Manor, the Arlington Housing Authority property in East Arlington. Inside these Farmers to Families Food boxes are produce, meat and dairy, a USDA program providing food assistance during Covid.

Open 7 days

The Hub is open seven days; volunteers come and go in fluid shifts. Places to pick up set-aside food include multiple Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Wegman's in Medford, Chelsea Produce Market and Minuteman High School.

We pass through a conference room. "I hope it will become a community space" and used for ongoing education, she said.

Reviewing paid-for items, we stop to consider what remains to be raised: $15,000 for an emergency generator, in case of lost power -- she calls it "essential" -- and $75,000 for solar panels. The Hub's roofing infrastructure awaits panels.

Some remaining areas are as-yet unused. Overlooking the Minuteman Bikeway and Alta Brigham apartments, the space is for prospective tenants.

After buying the building in November 2018, the transition experienced some delays. Apart from Covid-19, Dupont told an anecdote, which resulted in a successful deal last spring. She had access to arefrigerated box truck for refrigerating food, but no place to put it. After much discussion, a different prospect arose. Tufts University offered temporary parking to provide the use of their cold storage. "This was a game changer," she said.

Outside the new Hub, Food Link purchased two refrigerated vans and a box truck and added a pad mounted transformer, giving all vehicles spots to plug in their refrigeration.

For those items yet to be funded, Food Link's capital campaign continues through 2021 >> 

April 10, 2020: With need greater than ever, Food Link Hub renovation begins
Jan. 16, 2019: Food Link gets $25,000 grant to aid new headquarters
Nov. 14, 2018: UNDER ONE ROOF: Food Link completes purchase of Summer St. HQ
Sept. 10, 2018: NAPA store closing: A family story

This feature was published Wednesday, March 17, 2021.

 
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