Waysmeet Center wears multiple hats for Durham community


Stefanie Kistler, Staff Writer

DURHAM, NH – “You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise.”

These words, famously said by Maya Angelou, are painted on the front steps.

They are the first thing visitors will notice.

Next is the door, painted a midnight blue with flowers sprouting from the bottom. The words ‘all are welcome’ are written in bold azul.

When the beautifully painted front door swings open, it is the mural covered walls that catch the eye next. One section has cartoonish sunflowers poking out from the border. Another has vines crawling up the wall. In the corner are the words ‘don’t worry be happy’ surrounded by a bunch of blue and green smiley faces.

The biggest mural by far is the large rainbow tree. On every multicolored leaf are the names of employees, visitors, students and residents.

The most detailed mural is of three women’s heads side by side, surrounded by flowers, with the words ‘All acts of kindness are lights in the way for justice.’

Upon further exploration, visitors will learn that each room is painted a different bright color. The entry hall is a fresh periwinkle. The office space is bubblegum pink. The residential living room is pale green. The dining room is a pigmented blue.

Beyond the walls, there is an eclectic mix of objects covering nearly every surface in the building. There are African drums in the center meeting room, along with a piano in the corner Mugs hang from racks in the kitchen, which has a retro vibe to it. Multiple knitted blankets are tossed around, some sprawled over armchairs, some folded nicely on tables.

No, I am not describing the set of a new Wes Anderson movie. I am also not describing some art students’ shared living space. This is nothing like that. This is The Waysmeet Center.

Many students may recognize the name of this organization. The Waysmeet Center, a local non-profit, has been around for over 100 years and has had a strong campus presence throughout. In fact, the earliest mention of it was around 1921, under a different name; the United Campus Ministry, which is the legal name of Waysmeet to this day.

The Cornucopia Food Pantry that Waysmeet runs is by far their most well-known program, and for good reason. It was perhaps the most extensive food pantry I have ever personally seen, boasting roughly 10 plus  freezers and fridges. Beyond the frozen perishable food, the pantry is a wonderland of canned goods. Every shelf is packed with food, much of it donated by local grocery stores. According to employees, the food on display is only a fifth of what they actually carry.

I was given a tour of the place by Shanti Scott, the co-executive director of Waysmeet and she said that with this food they are currently serving over 100 families a week, but in the past it has gone up to over 300.

One thing that is unique about Waysmeet is that their food pantry is one of the few that does not require any documentation to use their services, a fact that Shanti takes pride in.

“Our values are really connected to dignity and access,” she said, “we don’t require documentation because we recognize that things ebb and flow.”

Even if you don’t look, quote, ‘like you need resources’ that doesn’t mean you’re not going through something and need support.”

As I was taken throughout the rest of the center, Shanti shared that beyond the food pantry that they run out of the basement, Waysmeet is a community center for hosting a variety of events and a fundraiser for The Flames of Hope Fund, a financial fund to help those in need.

“We do so much more than people realize,” she said, “what happens within these walls reverberates throughout the Seacoast area.”

When it comes to Durham events, their community dinners (co-sponsored by UNH’s Organic Gardening Club), are the most extensive. Hosted every second Friday of the month at The Waysmeet Center, visitors can enjoy delicious food to suit a variety of diets and enjoy the tight knit community Waysmeet has, all while learning more about the organization itself.

They also hold unique events like drum circles, played on the 30 African drums that the organization owns. There are also self-care sessions, open mic fundraisers and so much more. 

Other than the events and the pantry, the building is also residential, offering some of the lowest rent prices around and a rather unique living space.

Waysmeet is home to eight residents, each in their own room, which means the small building is currently at full capacity. They live in what Shanti calls an ‘intentional community’ where they have a support system in place and live with likeminded people who preach kindness and acceptance. Residents also have full access to the food pantry, where many of them volunteer.

One of those residents, international student Tinh Phuong, started living at Waysmeet during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not left since. Now a fourth year, Tinh says that it is the people that make him love living at Waysmeet.

“It is a really amazing community,” he said. “Everyone cares about your wellbeing, and there is a lot of opportunities to give back, either by volunteering or musically.”

After our interview, Tinh quietly left the room, before piano music filled the air. Shanti shared that he often provides music for the building throughout the regular days and at events.

Another student, Hannah Dowling, is an intern at Waysmeet Hannah helps run the food pantry as part of her work and keeps track of different events that the organization holds.

It was Hannah’s prior experience volunteering at Waysmeet through Alpha Phi Omega (APO) that led her to intern for the organization. She says that she enjoys helping run the food pantry, but that it is the underlying community and mission that makes her love Waysmeet.

“It’s not just a food pantry, it’s a place where everyone is accepted and welcomed,” she said, “it’s a safe place where we want people to come, enjoy themselves, and meet new people.”

Those interested in volunteering with Waysmeet can find an application here. Donation hours for the Cornucopia Food Pantry are Tuesdays 3p.m.-6p.m. Wednesdays 1p.m.-4p.m., and Fridays 12p.m.-2p.m. Waysmeet also accepts financial donations through their paypal.