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At Pine Street Inn, holiday spirit serves many

Mayor among hundreds helping

Dozens of volunteers hurried to prepare food at the Pine Street Inn yesterday. This week, more than 250 volunteers helped prepare 1,500 Thanksgiving dinners. Dozens of volunteers hurried to prepare food at the Pine Street Inn yesterday. This week, more than 250 volunteers helped prepare 1,500 Thanksgiving dinners. (Dina Rudick/Globe Staff photos)
By Rachana Rathi
Globe Staff / November 28, 2008
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A woman slipped a torn piece of paper into Mayor Thomas M. Menino's hand while he bantered with a pianist at the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter yesterday.

"Can you get this street light turned on?" asked Kim Bullock, 45, a resident of the shelter since February. Her dog was adopted by a veterinarian who lives on a dark street and has promised to return the pet when Bullock gets back on her feet. She wants the street to be safe for the doctor and the dog.

"It'll be done," the mayor said over the Thanksgiving Day noise and commotion.

A few minutes and a short rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" later, Menino brought a smile to Bullock's face when he informed her that his staff had "already called it in."

Like Bullock, many of the hundreds of other people under the Harrison Avenue roof of the Pine Street Inn - from residents to staff to volunteers - found reasons to be grateful yesterday as they prepared, served, or ate a meal complete with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, rolls, cider, and two types of pie.

There are nearly 7,000 people homeless each day in Boston, according to statistics provided by the inn, one of the largest shelter, housing, and job-training resources in New England. It serves 1,300 men and women a day, providing 700 beds and more than 3,000 meals.

This week, more than 250 volunteers helped prepare 1,500 Thanksgiving dinners for people at four Pine Street Inn sites, on the streets, and at 10 other nonprofits, which are served by Pine Street Inn's social enterprise venture, Abundant Table. Abundant Table is staffed by residents of the shelter, who learn culinary job skills through helping to prepare and deliver meals to other area agencies.

There were so many volunteers this year that some like Marine Corps veteran James Hughes, who has been coming to the shelter at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day for 17 years with his sister, left two hours earlier than they normally do.

In the kitchen, Menino and Lyndia Downie, the shelter's executive director, carved the first two turkeys with the assistance of two young helpers: Menino's 9-year-old grandson, Will, and Amanda Coolidge of Arlington, the 9-year-old daughter of a shelter employee, who were thrilled to go home with a wishbone.

Downie said she was grateful for the mayor's support of the homeless, not only yesterday, but for the work he does all year.

"He's someone who works hard so the poorest people have a seat at the table - both at a policy and practical level," she said. "We've been able to reduce the number of people sleeping on the street by 40 percent in the last three years because of him and his staff."

Menino visits several homeless shelters each Thanksgiving Day, he said, with the intention of telling people: "Don't despair. We're there."

And for many residents of the shelter, the support is received with gratitude.

"It means a lot for me to see strangers I'm not related to serving us, hugging us, treating us with respect - it's unconditional love," said Kathy Dwyer, a former drug abuser who recently moved from the shelter into her own home, one of the Inn's 500 affordable housing units.

While Dwyer and the other women waited to be served dinner, they listened to songs played by local entertainer Peter O'Malley, who said he's thankful for the chance to get the shelter's residents smiling on holidays.

The holiday was especially tough for resident Sydney Shiner-Spagone, who said she greatly missed watching football and cooking for her son, but being homeless was so "embarrassing" she didn't let him come see her yesterday. However, Shiner-Spagone couldn't contain her gratitude for the staff, shouting out to them as they walked by.

The former East Bridgewater resident lost her home to foreclosure and had other painful setbacks. But in the five months since she has been at the shelter, she has received counseling and the job assistance she needed to get employment at Macy's.

"I'm clean, I'm healthy, I have a bed at night," she said, "and a staff who supports me - they pack me a lunch for work, make sure I get my phone calls, take me to doctor's appointments. I'm lucky."

Rachana Rathi can be reached at rrathi@globe.com.

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