Mother’s Day is usually a time of convening with family to celebrate the mothers and special women in our lives. Though COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed how most people will celebrate the holiday this year, the underlying message is the same — to honor and uplift the women who nurture us.
But for many women who rely on the services at Women’s Lunch Place, Mother’s Day and life in general looks different. “We have women who visit us who are in pretty dire straits,” says chief development officer Paula White. “Many are facing homelessness, escaping an abusive situation or struggling with a substance use disorder.”
Women’s Lunch Place is a daytime shelter that caters to women. With flowers on every table and fresh, nutritious foods cooked in-house, it aims to be both a shelter and a community. “The trauma and issues that women experience are unique and different from men,” says White. According to recent studies, one of the major reasons women become homeless is because of abuse in the home. The majority of women who are homeless are mothers. “59% of those women have custody of their children,” says White. “It’s why it's so important that we celebrate Mother’s Day at Women’s Lunch Place.”
Mother’s Day cards have become an integral part of supporting and sustaining programs at Women's Lunch Place. For over a decade, Mother’s Day cards, designed by women in the Creative Expressions art program, have helped the shelter raise funds to support their services.
This year’s card was designed by 86-year-old Darcy De Souza, who found a new calling while participating in the shelter’s art program. She moved to Boston after leaving her home country of Brazil and has lived here for the past 31 years. De Souza began visiting the shelter after she was in a bad car accident in 2008 that left her unable to continue working as a home health aide. Through a translator, De Souza relayed her struggles in finding housing in Massachusetts. “I had a hard time finding an apartment because I wasn’t a citizen,” she said. After connecting with advocates at Women’s Lunch Place, she found stable housing and soon became involved in the Creative Expressions program.
The art program is actually what kept her coming back to Women’s Lunch Place, De Souza says. Always an artist at heart, she wanted more space and time to concentrate on making art. After a Creative Expressions session on making collages, De Souza fell in love with the artistic method. It’s what inspired her design for this year’s Mother’s Day card campaign. “I want to take longer courses now on collage,” she says. She adds with a laugh that her entire table is now covered with collaging materials.
De Souza’s design features bright red, yellow and purple flowers positioned on top of a blue sky and green grass. Each card costs $25 and helps feed a woman at the Women’s Lunch Place for an entire week. “Before COVID, we were averaging about 250 women a day at the shelter,” says White. “We were bursting at the seams. We were at capacity.”
Post-pandemic, those numbers have dropped because of capacity restrictions. White estimates that over 1,500 individuals have used Women’s Lunch Place services in the past year. But with the lift on pandemic regulations, Women’s Lunch Place is expecting to see an increase in the number of guests who need help. “Over the past year, many women have had no place to turn to,” White says. “We’ve seen food insecurity go up and we want to be prepared to meet the needs of our community.”
Using these Mother’s Day cards, Women’s Lunch Place hopes to not only raise funds but to educate the general population about homelessness and the women who experience it. Information about Women’s Lunch Place and Darcy De Souza are on each card, which is blank inside. “You can write your own message,” says White. “It can be for any woman or nurturer in your life. You can honor them by helping other women in need.”
"Buying one of our cards helps uplift what Mother's Day is really about," says White. "And that's celebrating women who take care of each other."
Cards are available for purchase through Women's Lunch Place. Order before May 2 for delivery in time for Mother's Day.