Food For Free receives space for new distribution center

Cambridge Chronicle | December 10, 2020

(l-r): Jason Alves, Sasha Purpura, Mayor Siddiqui, State Rep. Marjorie Decker, Vice Mayor Alanna Mallon, and Paul Ognibene

Cambridge, MA Urban Spaces — a Cambridge-based real estate development company — and Food for Free — a Cambridge-based nonprofit dedicated to providing reliable access to fresh food — recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of a new food packing and distribution center.

Located at 73 First St. across from the CambridgeSide shopping center, the facility aims to help Food For Free meet the growing demand for food during the COVID-19 health crisis. Urban Spaces is donating the rent and property management services for the 3,600 square-foot facility.

Since the health crisis hit in March, Food For Free had been using the Cambridge Senior Center as a food packing and distribution center. The nonprofit knew that they would need to find another space once winter began in order to make way for the city’s seasonal warming center for the homeless. To assist, the East Cambridge Business Association’s executive director, Jason Alves, reached out to his membership to see if anyone could help. Paul Ognibene, CEO of Cambridge-based Urban Spaces, responded. Ognibene and his team met with Food For Free and after just a few short meetings, had created a new partnership, which provides Food For Free with a rent-free facility.

“As a small nonprofit out of Central Square, there’s no way we could have done this out of the building we’re in. The city was kind enough to allow us to use the senior center in Central Square with the understanding that we would need to be out in November,” said Sasha Purpura, executive director of Food For Free. “Urban Spaces saved us at the last minute. They’re not charging us rent, they’re not charging us a management fee and it is so significantly below any market rate that all of that money that we’ll be saving can go directly to food and to addressing this crisis.”

During the ceremony, Purpura told the crowd, which included Cambridge Mayor Siddiqui, vice mayor Alanna Mallon, city councilors Tim Toomey and Marc McGovern, and State Rep. Marjorie Decker — as well as team members from Food For Free and Urban Spaces — that the relative increase in food insecurity in Massachusetts is higher than anywhere else in the nation. According to a recent report by the Greater Boston Food Bank, one in eight eastern Massachusetts residents are now food insecure, including one in six children. In response, Food For Free has distributed grocery bags to upwards of 2,000 Cambridge households every week since March, according to Purpura.

“When Jason Alves of our local business association called and explained what Food For Free was all about and what they were looking for, we knew immediately that we wanted to help in any way we could, so we worked everything out in record time,” said Urban Spaces CEO Paul Ognibene. “This partnership represents the best of the business, government and nonprofit worlds coming together — and it’s a great model for community success.”

Residents interested in donating, volunteering or becoming a corporate partner can visit,