On Sunday morning, Neysa Johnson turned the crank on a raffle drum, pulled out a red ticket, and called out the number 343. From a corner of the common room inside St. Francis House, a man stood and accepted a New England Patriots cap from Johnson with a broad smile, doffing a knit cap to try on his new team gear.
All around them inside the downtown Boston homeless shelter, paper footballs and Patriots pennants hung on the wall, and helium-filled balloons added color and cheer as guests in Pats jerseys and hoodies munched on popcorn from red-and-white striped boxes.
While Patriots fans around the region prepared to celebrate the team’s return to the Super Bowl, this celebration ensured that those without couches, big-screen TVs, and dining tables heaped with party platters could cheer and celebrate with the rest of Patriot Nation.
Johnson, guest engagement liaison for the shelter, said what participants enjoy most about this indoor “tailgate party,” now in its second year, is the camaraderie.
“This is a day of basically just coming together,” Johnson said. “They have so much to worry about any other day of the week.”
Karen LaFrazia, the shelter’s chief executive, said it started hosting a Super Bowl party last year because people who experience homelessness are like anyone else, and many are sports fans.
People without a steady place to stay may not have enough food or clothing, or a safe, warm place to sleep, LaFrazia said, but there are less obvious challenges that accompany homelessness.
“You don’t have a home where you can have a party. . . . You can’t invite your friends over,” she said. “There are all these little ways that people are excluded from fully participating in life.”
St. Francis House’s tailgate party is intended to help fill that gap.
“We’re trying to make people feel that they’re part of Patriots Nation,” LaFrazia said. “You shouldn’t be left out by virtue of your homelessness. This is one small way that we can bring people [together] and help them feel fully human, fully part of our community.”
To accomplish that, the shelter stocked up for Sunday’s celebration with 800 chicken wings, 400 sausage hoagies, and 35 gallons of chili to feed an estimated 350 fans.
Because St. Francis House is a day shelter that closes at 3 p.m., it was necessary to hold a pregame party, so fans at the shelter on Sunday watched the Patriots’ dramatic overtime victory in the AFC championship over the Kansas City Chiefs.
After Patriots owner Robert Kraft heard about the celebration, LaFrazia said, he reached out to ask how the team could help. The Patriots donated the hats, wristbands, beads, and buttons that the shelter distributed, and Kraft even recorded a personal video greeting to let the shelter’s guests know what their support means to the team.
“I’m so glad that you’ve all come together to celebrate your AFC champion New England Patriots,” he says in the video, adding later, “I want you to know that I’m truly appreciative of your support. Your spirit and enthusiasm will help bring our team to another — hopefully — Super Bowl win. Thank you very much for being part of Patriot Nation.”
LaFrazia said she hopes to continue holding Patriots Super Bowl parties “as long as the dynasty continues.”
St. Francis House guest Corey Bailey, 41, was feeling the pregame excitement — and anxiety — on Sunday. Bailey, who has been without a home for about a year and a half, said he is a lifelong Patriots fan.
“My father loved Steve Grogan and Doug Flutie,” he said. “So I grew up watching. . . . I’m in the Nation, born and raised.”
Bailey said he had faith in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s ability to bring home a sixth Super Bowl ring.
“I’ve been watching Brady, and I know that at 41 you can still play the game, because I don’t feel any different than I did 20 years ago,” he said. “If we play some good defense and stop their running game, I think we’ll be all right.”
Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.