Mandy Cambiar of Hundred Nights spoke at a Charitable Foundation community event in Keene in September. A transcript of her remarks follows.
Good evening, my name is Mindy Cambiar and I’m the executive director of Hundred Nights Emergency Shelter and Resource Center located on Water Street in Keene. I believe I was chosen to speak tonight because I happen to be one of those people who has made a lifelong habit of seeing a person in need and doing what I can to help them, no matter who they are, what they look like, where they’re from, or what choices they might have made in the past.
My life’s work began more than four decades ago when some community-minded people and I founded the Community Kitchen to provide meals to community members in need. While a student at Keene State College, a friend and I attended a conference where we learned about the concept of creating a community kitchen instead of a traditional ‘soup kitchen.’ We were inspired by the idea of having a place open to all where the community can come together to break bread; a place that encourages relationship-building and reduces the “us versus them” mentality that all too often isolates and marginalizes neighbors from one another.
After graduation, I began working with St. James Episcopal Church, The Keene Unitarian Universalist Church and The Keene United Church of Christ to serve meals and provide boxes that people could take home to fill their pantries.
Today, the Community Kitchen operates out of its permanent location on Mechanic Street in Keene. Last year, the Community Kitchen served 33,677 hot meals and distributed 27,554 boxes through the Pantry Program to individuals and families in the Monadnock region.
The growth and sustainability of the Community Kitchen only happened because of the willingness of community members to not only see the need for its services but step up and take action to make sure the most vulnerable in our community were able to access those resources. Staff, volunteers, faith-based organizations, local restaurants and food suppliers, financial donors and staff working at local and state social services agencies have stepped up on a daily basis for 40 years to help make sure everyone in our community not only has access to three meals a day, but has a place to go where they can feel and be a part of the community.
In 2013, after 24 years at the Community Kitchen and a much-needed multiyear road trip around the country, I ran into Don Primrose, founder of Hundred Nights Shelter and Open Door Resource Center.
Don is another concerned citizen who took action to open a cold weather shelter when he saw that people in his community had nowhere to go in the middle of winter when other shelters were at capacity or people were deemed ineligible for services.
Hundred Nights first opened in 2010 as a cold weather shelter and day-time drop-in center to provide shelter during the coldest one hundred nights of the year. That first year, Hundred Nights sheltered 96 unduplicated individuals from across Cheshire County with no staff and the help of over 50 volunteers.
When I ran into Don ten years ago, he asked if I would serve as treasurer of the organization’s board. I said I would think about it. At the next board meeting, unbeknownst to me, I was voted in as treasurer, and it wasn’t too long after that I stepped into the role of interim executive director.
Over time, Hundred Nights added full- and part-time staff and hundreds of volunteers to meet the need for shelter and supportive services. Last year, we provided shelter to an unprecedented 259 unduplicated individuals and served an additional 204 unduplicated individuals in the resource center.
We truly couldn’t do this without the support of the entire community including our community partners like Southwest Community Services, Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention, the Community Kitchen, Cheshire Medical Center, town and city welfare departments, and hundreds of donors contributing in-kind and monetary donations to help fuel our mission.
Hundred Nights recently completed a $6.2 million capital project to build a new facility to put all of our shelter beds and our resource center under one roof and within walking distance of our key partners and services. Our ribbon cutting and open house is September 23 at 10 a.m. and you are all invited to attend! This was a huge effort on the part of our organization, and, like all other endeavors, it was only possible because of the involvement and support of many individuals who believe in making our community a great place to live for everyone.
Our greatest challenge continues to be reducing the stigma about people experiencing homelessness. People become homeless for many reasons such as a lack of affordable housing, mental illness, substance abuse disorders, catastrophic illness, natural disasters, unemployment, or working low-wage jobs. They are individuals of all ages, colors, and abilities. They are all human beings, worthy of respect, dignity, and compassion.
Creating a New Hampshire where everyone can thrive is something we can all help to make a reality. It doesn’t depend on a few leaders. It requires a commitment from everyone to do what they can in their part of New Hampshire to make our communities stronger for everyone.
What that commitment looks like is up to you. You don’t need to commit your life to a career in social services. You do need to figure out what meaningful action and participation means to you. Will you be an advocate? A volunteer? A financial donor? Will you simply choose to acknowledge someone who looks different than you on the street as you pass by? Will you keep an open mind when you hear an opposing view? Will you stop to help someone who is clearly in need? All of these things are within your control. If you multiply one act that will benefit another person by the number of people in this room alone, we will get results. We will take steps toward creating a New Hampshire where everyone can thrive. Thank you.