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Rosie’s Place
Offering Women Shelter and Hope
by Andrea Cleghorn

From Chapter 3: Friday Lunch

George Keady pulls his faded maroon sedan up to Rosie’s Place early on a Friday morning and walks stiffly to the door. George is a big man in his seventies, with sparkling blue eyes and bushy white hair. After working late the night before at his “real” (i.e., paying) job, he has had to get up early for his weekly volunteer stint in Rosie’s kitchen. The street is almost deserted. Two women pull a shopping cart with a baby in the basket. They recognize George from down the block and wave to him.
George then greets the staffer who opens the door for him. “Hello, dear!” He’s a little breathless from the effort of walking the fifty feet from his parking space to the door. “How are ya?” While his face may be from Ireland, George’s speech leaves no doubt that he has lived in a Boston neighborhood all his life. He refers to himself as “one of the poor boys from Brighton,” a small piece of Boston south of the Charles River, sandwiched between Brookline and Newton.
Going directly to the kitchen, George finds he has the place to himself and heads for the storage room in the back. He hauls a box of onions off the top of a stack of boxes beside the produce refrigerator and totes it to the big counter in the kitchen. He dumps out ten onions the size of grapefruits and goes to work, chopping through the pale layers with the air of someone who has spent years just cutting up onions. Altogether, he probably has. Unlike everyone else who works in the kitchen and whose training has been on-the-job at best, George is a professional. Starting in the U.S. Navy, he has cooked steadily for decades. Quantities don’t faze him; he has overseen as many as 2500 dinners a night at some of the mammoth chateau-type restaurants that used to be scattered around Boston.
With only about a hundred lunch customers and a single menu, being the top chef at Rosie’s is one of George’s easiest jobs. It also pays the least, since George is a volunteer. He cooks the food America lived on in the 1940s and ’50s. Vegetables have sticks of butter mixed into them. Red meat is frequently on the menu. Fish comes with lemon sauce, broccoli is covered with cheese, and chicken dishes are invariably creamy. The food reminds many of Rosie’s guests of how things used to be.

Though any woman is welcome to come by for lunch at Rosie’s, many of the same women come every day. Some have been coming for years. Some of them live in low-income apartments in the neighborhood; others are in the shelter system, staying at different places overnight; and some have no regular place to live. Many of the women know each other, at least by sight. There are sisters who live apart but who come to have lunch together. There is a young woman who comes in with a tiny, bundled-up baby. A staff member takes the infant on a tour of the dining room while the young woman eats lunch. As anywhere else, there are mothers pushing their reluctant children to eat—at Rosie’s, this may be the last chance for several hours to get food into them. . . .
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