Brian Cullen had been running in the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter’s annual fundraising road race for years when the race director approached him and pitched a board position. That was five years ago. Cullen is now board chair and race director, working closely with Lisa Christie. Sometimes that means literally working on the run.
While running through Mines Falls, a park bordering the Nashua River that is crisscrossed by dirt paths, the pair reflect on the growing needs of those struggling to make ends meet in Nashua and the challenges of meeting that need. The road race helps to bring both attention and resources to that need. This past summer more than 700 people participated in Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter’s 22nd annual road race, an event that raises more than $60,000 annually for Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter, making it the second largest fundraiser for the nonprofit behind the auction held this month.
The money is used to meet needs as simple as deodorant, a razor or shampoo for someone going to a job interview who has no cash left for the essentials after paying for rent and food. It is also used to fund the organization’s two shelters, meal programs (it serves breakfast and dinner and has a food pantry) and educational assistance services including a GED program or updating lapsed certificates including trucking and nursing licenses.
“For all those people who we help who are in transition [with housing], the core people we have are regular folks from Nashua who lived here, worked here and for one reason or another are suddenly down on their luck,” Christie says. “As the end of the month comes, we see an uptick because the public assistance was carrying them through.”
Christie recalls a mother who lamented that she had to deny her teenage son a second glass of milk because there was only enough for one glass each. She also recalls a man sent to the soup kitchen by a judge for community service (which happens often) who asked if she needed more help as he had finished his hours but wanted to keep coming back. The nonprofit has more than 1,000 volunteers.
It’s those kinds of stories that both keep her going and fuel her mid-day runs. Usually she has company, but sometimes she runs alone. “You know how they say people think in the shower? I think out here. Lots of times I get back to my office and send out an email to the fundraising committee that starts, 'Oh, when I was running today' …”
Last year, the nonprofit moved the soup kitchen to a new building three times its former size thanks to a $2.6 million capital campaign. “The biggest benefit is it’s erased the stigma of going. The old building only sat 47 people and you can do the math, you had to wait outside,” Cullen says, explaining 80 to 200 people come for meals and families would go first and rush to let other people in. Now people can wait inside if a seat is not free. The new dining room fits 110 people. “Now people don’t have to race off. They can be like everyone else and have normal conversation.”
While patrons may not need to race, Christie and Cullen sometimes feel the need to do so. Christie has run numerous marathons. Cullen has run two marathons. “The best meeting Brian and I have had yet was not over breakfast. It was last Friday when we were running,” Christie says. “There is such a camaraderie among runners.”