Metro

East Boston church a sanctuary for homeless family

Gabriella Bonilla , 10, posed for a portrait in her family’s sleeping area at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in East Boston.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Gabriella Bonilla , 10, posed for a portrait in her family’s sleeping area at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in East Boston.

Candy Calix and Roberto Bonilla arrived in Boston 10 years ago from El Salvador. They made East Boston their home, spending six years in one apartment until they moved to a triple-decker on Maverick Street.

But on Aug. 1, disaster struck: The back wall collapsed on three triple-deckers, including the Bonilla family’s.

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All of the residents were housed temporarily in hotel or motel rooms paid for by their landlord. But after he stopped paying for their rooms last Friday, the families moved to an emergency shelter set up at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in East Boston .

That’s where 10-year-old Gabriella Bonilla found herself celebrating Thanksgiving at a community pot luck dinner, held in the church basement.

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She filled her plate with spicy rice, roast turkey, black beans, and a slice of pepperoni pizza. She sipped lemonade from a red plastic cup. “It’s really good,” she said, her smile revealing silver braces. “It’s good because people I don’t know are here, too.”

Dozens of supporters and volunteers with City Life/Vida Urbana organized the dinner at Our Saviour. “Our community has really rallied for them,” said Andres Del Castillo, an organizer for City Life, dressed in a white chef coat and hat.

City Life purchased cots and bedding and collected donations of food. Gabriella Bonilla sleeps with her mother, grandmother, and two brothers on five cots set up behind pews.

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“It’s difficult, because they tell us, ‘You can move,’ ” the fifth-grader said. “We get ready, but then we don’t move.”

Rents are soaring in East Boston. Theirs is a story being repeated with greater frequency and urgency, as immigrant families find they cannot afford what landlords demand.

So Gabriella Bonilla is grateful for the help of others.

“Thank you,” Bonilla said, as she hugged Del Castillo. “So much.”

Kathy McCabe

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