Geovonie Perez became homeless about six months ago, and was thankful to have somewhere to go this Thanksgiving.
Perez, 53, was one of approximately 2,000 people who organizers expected to take part in a traditional Thanksgiving meal at Pine Street Inn on Thursday.
For him, it was like having a meal with his newfound family, which is how he describes the staff and other guests at the Boston organization that provides emergency shelter, housing and a range of other services to homeless people.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had so much opportunity to change my life,” Perez said. “They treat you like a human being, and that’s the most important thing. Thank God for Pine Street Inn.”
Perez said a divorce left him homeless, and his family lives far away, so being able to celebrate the holiday “means a lot.”
“To me, this is like a family within a family,” he said. “To have a place like this to come to on Thanksgiving, it means the world. Nothing feels worse than being homeless and not having anything to eat and being out in the cold.”
Lyndia Downie, executive director and president of Pine Street Inn, said Thanksgiving can be a tough day for people at the shelter, and the annual event is a way for the community to say, “we’re still thinking about them.”
“It’s a bittersweet day,” Downie said. “Everyone else is going home.”
The 2,000 meals served on Thursday were made from 120 pounds of turkey, 750 pounds of mashed potatoes, 250 pounds of cranberry sauce and 50 gallons of gravy, she said.
Roughly 80 volunteers took part in preparations and serving meals. It was the first time the event was held in person with volunteers since COVID, Downie said.
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Paul Ferreira drove his Ford Bronco to Pine Street Inn to deliver two dozen turkeys in 1987, and has been volunteering there ever since. It later became a family affair, with his wife taking part for the last 20 years, and their children for eight.
“I just found a connection to the people and the community, and it’s moving,” Ferreira said. “It’s an important service to this city.”
The day’s festivities kicked off mid-Thursday morning, with a special delivery from Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who dropped off 50 Thanksgiving pies and 300 pairs of socks for the homeless.
McAvoy also joined Mayor Michelle Wu, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and state Rep. Aaron Michlewitz to carve some turkeys, and seemed to enjoy the competition.
“I think I crushed it,” McAvoy said of his turkey carving. “Last year I gave myself first and I think I’m going to give myself first again.”
McAvoy said he became involved with the annual Thanksgiving event last year, after carrying on the legacy started by the Boston Bruins Foundation and “Big Z,” which is a nickname for retired team defenseman Zdeno Chara.
“Everywhere we go, the volunteers are incredible people who are giving their time on this day where everyone wants to feel appreciated for something, so it’s really special,” McAvoy said.
Downie said twice as many people, or 850, are now in stable housing at Pine Street Inn, as compared to the roughly 450 who are in a shelter there. Wu said this is proof that the model works, in terms of partnering with the city to provide services to the homeless.
“But we’re not able to serve everyone,” Wu said. “There’s still more than 150 people on our wait list for housing and we need a partnership and to have the resources to be able to expand this.”
A home gives people a place to store their belongings, and makes everything else possible, including medical care, mental health treatment and recovery, Wu said.
“So we know it makes a big, big difference,” Wu said. “I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done over this last year to take this model and expand it in Boston.”
Paul Connors/Boston HeraldMayor Michelle Wu and State Representative Aaron Michlewitz carve turkeys as they help volunteers serve Thanksgiving dinner at the Pine Street Inn Thursday. (Paul Connors/Boston Herald)