As Bostonians made the finishing touches on their Thanksgiving feasts Thursday morning, Mayor Michelle Wu lent a carving hand during one of Pine Street Inn’s busiest days of the year.
Wu, along with Senator Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, state Representative Aaron Michlewitz, and Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, carved four steaming turkeys in preparation for the homeless shelter‘s annual holiday dinner. For years, public officials have made it a holiday tradition to make the event a part of their Thanksgiving schedule.
“Everybody else is home today, and if you’re here at Pine Street Inn, you’re at home,” said Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street Inn. “It’s a tough, very emotional day. To have this kind of support all year — I appreciate them coming down here and giving back.”
Unlike previous years, Downie said Pine Street Inn was not aided by its usual arsenal of volunteers for the Thanksgiving holiday. About 20 volunteers arrived at the shelter at 6 a.m. to prepare 120 turkeys, 1,000 pounds of mashed potatoes, 500 pounds of fruit salad, 280 pounds of cranberry sauce, 150 whole pies, and 1,300 mini pies. Hundreds of volunteers would pitch in before the pandemic, she said.
At the start of the pandemic, 36 percent of those staying at Pine Street Inn tested positive for the coronavirus, she said. Downie said the shelter has been grateful to only have three or four residents test positive for COVID-19 in the past eight months and still continues cluster testing with random groups of guests periodically. Pine Street Inn, founded in 1969, provides emergency shelter, permanent housing, and job training to 2,000 people at any given time in Boston and Brookline.
Wu and the three other volunteers weren’t permitted into the building because of the ongoing pandemic, but they did have a chance to speak with a few guests, including Debbie Russo. Russo, 67, whose family lives in Illinois, said she felt encouraged by the public officials’ appearances Thursday.
“It’s wonderful,” Russo said. “They could be sitting in their homes with their family today if they wanted to. But they’re here.”
Pamela Muise, 67, also expressed appreciation for the visit and called on the public servants to find ways to create more permanent housing for those without. If they could help more people in her situation get a roof over their heads, that would be a plus, she said.
“These people could use more help,” Muise said, referring to others facing housing instability. “I hope they can make more housing available, get more people in the shelter, and deal with all the people looking for places, that would be great.”
Wu, Markey, Michlewitz, and McAvoy each carved a turkey outside the shelter’s main entrance. The four made the event a friendly competition, as each, with varying experience, tore into the large birds.
“There’s no prize for the winner here,” Downie joked, “though Aaron, we know you’re really competitive, and you think you’re the best turkey carver.”
“No, no, no,” Michlewitz, , a North End Democrat, said. “I’ve just had the most practice.”
“I am much more of a hen carver,” Wu joked as she cut into her turkey.
As she prepared the turkey, Wu shared in English and Spanish her plans to use the city’s resources to secure the nonprofit more housing and move towards a “housing-first model” for everyone.
“We have to have emergency shelter available, but we need to have even more of these beds going towards stable housing,” Wu said. “Housing has to be the foundation of our recovery during this pandemic.”
After 30 minutes, the four carvers rated their skills.
“It’s an art,” Markey said as the four assessed their carving work. “I think Charlie [McAvoy] won.”
In all, the homeless shelter prepared 2,000 meals Thursday. While serving dinner to guests at their numerous permanent housing locations, team members also handed out food to people on the streets.
Downie said Pine Street Inn aims to reach 1,000 supportive housing units for people who’ve experienced homelessness the longest in the area. She hopes statewide aid and federal money for housing and rental assistance could go towards this goal.
“A few hundred units for a city like Boston where the numbers are relatively low compared to other cities could make a really big difference,” she said. “We’re excited to work with Mayor Wu on some more housing and the opportunity to think differently about how we find and build housing for homeless people.”