Metro

Thanksgiving dinner held for motel-bound homeless

Alain Yeh-Ling helped his son, Jackson, 3, sample some of the desserts at Monday’s dinner.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Alain Yeh-Ling helped his son, Jackson, 3, sample some of the desserts at Monday’s dinner.

Elizabeth Tyler struggled to close the Styrofoam to-go container for her slices of sweet potato, apple, pecan, pumpkin, and pumpkin chiffon pies, but you could hardly blame her for trying.

Tyler, a 33-year-old mother of four, said she had been homeless for the past two months, after her family was evicted from their apartment in Charlestown.

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Over the past two months, Tyler has lived in a motel, which means cooking meals in a microwave and washing items in the bathtub, she said. But for a couple of hours on Wednesday afternoon at the Josephine A. Fiorentino Community Center at Charlesview in Brighton, Tyler did not have a single chore on her plate — just turkey, dressing, and lots of desserts.

“My kids are having fun, and everyone here is open arms and smiles. No one is judging you or looking down on you,” Tyler said. “It makes you feel good."

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The Tylers were one of 150 families who received a Thanksgiving dinner at the center in Brighton, through a partnership of nonprofits, faith-based organizations, educational groups, and businesses.

Community organizers estimated that hundreds more families live in motels throughout Greater Boston, including in Waltham, Malden, and Marshfield. The state has a program that places certain families in motels, as long as they meet income and conduct guidelines. The program pays the room charge, and also provides case managers who help residents find work and permanent housing.

Though the families have a roof over their heads and private space, they cannot have visitors, they have a curfew, and other than using a microwave, they cannot cook.

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This is what Kate Fahey of Action for Boston Community Development and Henryce Gumes of the state’s motel housing program were pondering one month ago when they had the idea for Wednesday’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“We wanted people to come together and have a home-cooked meal,” Fahey said. “And when we started telling families about the idea, everyone was saying ‘absolutely,’ we’d love that.”

At the Charlesview community center Wednesday, about 40 volunteers gathered hours before families arrived, adorning the center’s multipurpose room with flowers, table linens, and decorations.

Le Cordon Bleu, a culinary arts school in Cambridge, donated 20 cooked turkeys, and 82 volunteers made a pot-luck style feast that covered Thanksgiving staples and delicacies.

Joshua Colon, an 8-year-old whose family was evicted from their apartment in Worcester, jammed rice and ham into his mouth, at a speed only bested when he switched to eating cookies.

“I miss some of my cousins,” the boy said.

Luis Colon dug into a turkey leg.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Luis Colon dug into a turkey leg.

His mother, 26-year-old Angela Valentin, said the family spent last Thanksgiving with relatives, who now live 40 miles away.

“It’s been tough,” Valentin, a mother of three, said. “It happens in a blink of an eye . . . we have to take them to the parking lot just to run around.”

“We have nothing out here,” she said. “But at least we are together.”

Managers of the state motel housing program say that on average, families stay in their temporary lodging for 18 months. But some have a hard time finding a way out.

Alain Yeh-Ling is a 34-year-old project team specialist for Best Buy.

Ling, his wife Ashley, and their two children, ages 3 years old and 18 months, have lived in the Days Inn for about two years.

“It’s been really difficult,” Yeh-Ling said about amassing the money to move out of the motel. “You work and you try to provide a life for your family, but it’s still hard.”

His wife said events like the Thanksgiving dinner help the family feel that they are not forgotten.

She said the hardest part of being homeless is “feeling normal.”

“Before it happens to you, it’s easy to assume things about people becoming homeless. Honestly I did it myself,” said Ashley Yeh-Ling, who is an illustrator. “But now, things like cooking in a kitchen or having a place to sleep are hard. I just worry about my kids feeling less than [others].”

Yeh-Ling expressed what 27-year-old Dianna Young could not.

A mother of three, Young has lived at the Charles River Motel for 16 months and she could not begin to describe the homeless experience, she said.

Young’s 10-year-old son Jaden has a heart condition, which requires him to eat certain foods, his mother said.

Almost none of the foods can be cooked in a microwave.

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@ globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH

Correction: Because of a reporting error, a story in Thursday’s Metro section gave the incorrect day for the Thanksgiving dinner at the Charlesview community center. The dinner took place on Wednesday.

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