About four years ago, Julie Plaut Mahoney had a lightbulb moment. Julie had spent many years working with elder care and hospice patients, and inevitably there came a time when her clients’ possessions were no longer needed. She was in a meeting with a social worker from Second Step, who was helping families move into new, unfurnished homes, when she realized the opportunity before her. She started repackaging unneeded lamps and blankets and silverware and other household items for people who needed them.
Julie eventually took on the project full time, and Welcome Home was born. “When the pandemic hit, everyone was home wanting to get rid of stuff. On the receiving end, the need really skyrocketed,” says Julie, “We quickly went from a tiny nonprofit to 50 volunteers, serving 70 families a month.”
Welcome Home has become a valued Newton Food Pantry partner, with a table for shoppers at the pantry in addition to their main operation in Trinity Church in Newton Centre. Although their clients come from as far away as Worcester and Brockton, “We make a point to serve clients in Newton – that’s why I really value the relationship with Newton Food Pantry.” says Julie, who now has a volunteer, Sarah Houseman, solely dedicated to the relationship with the Pantry. “We also have good relationships with Newton Social Workers and the Newton Housing Authority. I sleep at night knowing we’re serving people in Newton.”
One reason the Food Pantry and Welcome Home are such natural partners is the shared focus on the client: “We think there’s so much dignity in picking your own items,” says Julie, who notes that pillows, blenders, small microwaves, coffee pots, can openers, towels and blankets are the most popular items, “Clients get furniture from furniture banks, they get food from the pantry, what they don’t have is the other stuff. We’re filling in the gaps.”
Similar to the Newton Food Pantry, the typical Welcome Home client is a woman with one or more children who may live in an intergenerational family. “We assume that the person who comes to us is the emissary for their family group,” says Julie, “It moves me to tears to see how powerful these women are who are out looking for resources for their families. If they say they need an extra blanket, they get it. We don’t ask questions.”
Welcome Home’s partnership with Newton Food Pantry is on a trajectory of growth, with plans for a distribution site at the freedge in the near future. “My 30,000-foot view is a shared space where multiple social services agencies can serve clients more efficiently. There are lots of social services agencies serving the same clients – it would be so efficient if they only had to go to one place for everything they need. Sharing space with Newton Food Pantry is strategically important to us,” says Julie, “I grew up in Newton and I raised my kids here, it’s imperative that we serve Newton residents. This is one of the most important partnerships we have.”