Over 120 turkeys, 750 pounds of mashed potatoes, and 50 gallons of gravy were on the Thanksgiving menu at Boston’s Pine Street Inn Thursday morning.
Mayor Michelle Wu, Senator Edward J. Markey, state Representative Aaron Michlewitz, and Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy were among those who helped prepare the festive feast for more than 2,000 people, giving their best effort to carve turkeys.
“Very hard day to be here. It’s a bittersweet day. Everyone else is going home, and if you’re homeless, you’re here, and people really feel it,” said Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of Pine Street Inn, one of the largest providers of homeless services in New England .
Volunteers were back for the first Thanksgiving in three years since the coronavirus pandemic started, Downie said, marking a transition from a time of isolation to a time of togetherness.
“It changes the building. It changes how people interact,” Downie said. “It sends a message to our guests that, listen, we haven’t forgotten about you. It’s been tough, but we’re here.”
Donning Pine Street Inn baseball caps and aprons, Markey, Wu, Michlewitz, and McAvoy sliced into their respective turkeys as they joked about the pressure of everybody watching them. Boston Police Commissioner Michael Cox looked on and lent a helping hand.
“Trying to go thin,” McAvoy said as he skewered a cut of meat and slid it off into a tray with a knife.
Earlier that morning, the famed hockey player dropped off 50 pies — including pumpkin and apple — as well as 300 pairs of socks for the shelter guests.
Markey dug into the bird, saying how proud he was that he “did better than last year.” Wu looked over at his turkey and smiled.
“Pine Street Inn and Thanksgiving go together. It’s a way of showing who we are — we’re a commonwealth,” Markey said to reporters. “Pine Street Inn ensures that everyone is able to celebrate Thanksgiving and that’s why I’m here.”
Volunteer and shelter board member Megan Gates, 53, of Boston, filled dozens of plastic cups of cold apple cider, while others brought out rows of tables and chairs for the meal service.
“To me, this is just a big part of my involvement in the community,” Gates said. “The food service and job training, getting people access to housing and medical care — to me, it’s just important to be part of something like that.”
Wu finished carving her turkey and prepared to head to St. Francis House, another homeless shelter in downtown Boston, to help put the finishing touches on their Thanksgiving meal and speak with guests and volunteers.
“We’re here as a city to say ‘We see you. We value and appreciate every single person in our community,’ and we owe it to every resident to ensure that we’re doing everything possible,” Wu said. “We’re committed to leading the way across the country in how we address homelessness and our housing crisis overall.”
The past couple of years have been the toughest time for the shelter in Downie’s 30-some years working there, she said. Many guests tested positive for COVID-19 since it was extremely difficult to social distance at Pine Street Inn.
“The beds are literally right next to each other. People eat together, sleep together, everything,” Downie said. “Now, our numbers look pretty good. Right now, about 75 percent of our guests are vaccinated, but we’re monitoring them on a regular basis.”
Kimberly Velazquez, 26, who has lived in the women’s shelter for three weeks, waited in the lobby of Pine Street Inn to get her fill of turkey, stuffing, and apple cider. She is pregnant with a baby boy who is due in December.
For Velazquez, Thanksgiving at the shelter means she can spend time with the good friends she’s made.
“Just to be here with everyone today because they’re like my family,” Velazquez said.
Another guest, 42-year-old Megan Cobb, stressed how grateful she was to be in the women’s shelter at Pine Street Inn, especially since they’ve granted her a bed for over a year.
“I was just homeless and I had no place to go and they gave me a safe place to stay,” Cobb said as she prepared to eat a hearty meal.
When asked what she was most excited to devour, she replied, “everything.”