When the Melrose Unitarian Universalist Church halted in-person services last spring, it figured rough times might be ahead. The church applied for and received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan to help cover payroll — which it did. But the funds soon became unnecessary as the church actually started growing, hosting more people on Zoom services than it did in its West Emerson Street building.
The church, which had been able to convert the loan into a grant, was considering how best to put the extra $33,900 to use.
During the pandemic, Bread of Life also started seeing an influx of people, though for different reasons. The Malden-based nonprofit has provided meals for more people than ever as food insecurity grew.
So it was an "obvious" choice to redirect the funds to the group with which the church has partnered for more than three decades, according to Reverend Susanne Intriligator.
"The PPP loan was intended to help people hurt by the pandemic," Intriligator said. "When it turned out that our church would not be, we decided that the right thing to do was to turn that money over to people who need it, people who are hungry." The donation left Bread of Life Executive Director Gabriella Snyder Stelmack "stunned."
"This is great, it's huge," she said. "Those funds go directly into our programs."
And those programs are growing. The nonprofit runs two food pantries and a free evening grab-and-go meal program as well as newly launched grocery delivery for isolated seniors and food-filled backpacks for high school and middle school students.
Bread of Life served more than 1 million meals in 2020, helping more than 10,000 families, about 600 of who are from Melrose. The organization usually serves low-income people from Malden, Medford, Everett, Melrose, Stoneham, Saugus, Wakefield, Reading, North Reading and Wincheste, but has opened to all communities during the pandemic.
"Our numbers have really been quite extraordinary," Stelmack said. It's not just how many people Bread of Life helps, but the dignity and respect with which it does so that really aligns with the church's values.
"It's right there on the plate," president of the church's board Dan Griscom said aptly noted. "It's exactly what we want to do and exactly how we want to live our values."
Bread of Life is working on a new building on Malden's Eastern Ave. The multi-purpose community center will offer classes in English and Mandarin, art and performance presentations and different trainings.
Pandemic or not, Bread of Life is finding ways to meet the needs of those struggling. "Hopefully things are going to get back to the new normal," Stelmack said. "Whatever that's going to be, I don't know. But we're going to be here continuing to provide for these families."