Haley House Fights for Social Justice, One Cookie at a Time

Much more than flour, butter, and sugar goes into making the best cookies on campus. Haley House chocolate chip cookies are sold in the dining halls, where they have gained a reputation for their deliciousness. But there is far more to these cookies than just what meets the tongue. Every Haley House cookie contributes to the eradication of societal inequality. Haley House is a local non-profit organization that strives for social justice through its mission to “challenge the attitudes and structures that perpetuate suffering.”

Haley House was founded in 1966 when Kathe and John McKenna opened their apartment to Boston’s homeless. They began to provide these forgotten souls a warm meal, a place to sleep, and kindness and respect. A year later in the South End of Boston, the original Haley House soup kitchen opened its doors.

Right from the start, Haley House took a radically different approach to helping victims of inequality than any other organization of its kind. In mission and practice, the Haley House community relies on mutual respect, empowerment, and connection through food to remove the socially-constructed barriers that perpetuate inequality between people of different racial, educational, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Live-in volunteers and activists run the kitchen and programming, which creates a conscious community that embodies respect and connection for all. The McKennas’ hands-on approach to promoting social justice has remained integral to the mission of Haley House over the last 50 years, even as the organization has matured and expanded.

Today, the Haley House community has expanded to include a food pantry, meal services for the elderly, affordable housing, urban agriculture partnerships, and two eateries: a pizzeria called Dudley Dough and the Haley House Bakery Cafe. These two eateries are open to all and feed people from all walks of life.

In addition to providing their communities with food, these restaurants are community hubs that provide programming catered to victims of inequality. In fact, it is the Temporary Employment Program at the Bakery Cafe that provides the Boston College community with 600 packs of its famous cookies each week. These cookies are made by individuals who have been incarcerated and isolated from mainstream society and employment, often due to the vicious cycle of addiction and incarceration. The Temporary Employment Program stops this cycle in its tracks by giving ex-offenders paid jobs, a supportive community, and mentoring. The program’s participants learn how to make cookies and gain the skills they need to secure a steady job after the program. The Temporary Employment Program has transformed the lives of many of its participants, who have then gone on to transform society.

The relationship between BC and Haley House goes far deeper than just cookies. Haley House’s namesake, Leo Haley, was a BC alumnus who embraced BC’s Jesuit tradition of social justice. In 1976, the PULSE program began sending undergrads to volunteer with Haley House, a tradition that continues to this day.

Luke Heineman, a PULSE council member for Haley House and MCAS ’17, works as a liaison between the 10 to 15 students in the PULSE program who volunteer at the soup kitchen each semester. At the beginning of this year Heineman had to work overtime to schedule enough tours of the Haley House for the interested PULSE participants.

“Haley House is traditionally one of the most popular PULSE placements,” Heineman said. Interest is not likely to die down any time soon, as the Haley House continues to attract a diverse and dedicated staff.

“I was blown away by the [organization’s] sense of community,” he said, emphasizing how friendly and open the Haley House staff was. Haley House is all about connection and through PULSE, Heineman’s students get to connect with and “learn about relationship-building with people you don’t think about.”

Getting involved with Haley House is a transformative experience for these students, and over the course of the year Heineman sees them mature, gain patience, and expand their awareness. Students are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and form connections with the soup kitchen’s clientele. Heineman saw how interacting with the residents could overcome societal barriers when one of his students connected with a homeless man who was interested in astronomy.

“[The homeless man] actually found a mistake in the Museum of Science’s astronomy exhibit and pointed it [out] and he was correct, which really undermines the stereotype that homeless people are uneducated,” Heineman said.

The students’ experiences working at Haley House have long-reaching effects on how they view society, perpetuating the Jesuit mission for justice in the BC community. So if you ever need an excuse to eat a cookie, or three, remember that every Haley House cookie helps bring people together and promotes equality and social change.

Featured Image by Kelsey McGee / Heights Editor

Maddie Phelps

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