By Seth Daniel
When the chips were down, and the bitter, Arctic temperatures were coming, Chelsea banded together to take care of it’s least fortunate – the homeless and addicted community of folks what routinely live outside and in Bellingham Square.
Police Chief Brian Kyes put out the alert last week about temperatures over the weekend that could bottom out at negative-10 degrees, and far colder with windchill added in. Many of the providers in the community that often try to help the homeless were scrambling.
That’s when the first gift from above came about.
Pastor Ricardo Valle of the Light of Christ Church at 738 Broadway approached the Chelsea Police and said they were prepared to open their newly-renovated church to any and all homeless who needed shelter from the deadly cold temperatures.
“Last year, we talked in the church that ti was time to give the church back to the community of Chelsea,” said Pastor Valle. “We saw the cold weather coming and the emergency situation and decided this was the time to open the church. I went to the police and told them we would open for the homeless. Thank God, everything went so well. The people in Chelsea were beautiful. People brought food and donations and clothes. Everything was just such a blessing. It couldn’t have gone better.”
With the church ready to open, City Navigator Ruben Rodriguez – long a servant of the homeless in Bellingham Square prior to being an official navigator, sprung into action.
Rodriguez was able to get the police to deliver some cots to the church and, using resources from Bob Repucci of CAPIC, he was able to get several sleeping bags as well. At the same time, the word went out on Facebook and throughout the community of folks that serve the homeless.
“I picked up about seven sleeping bags,” he said. “We didn’t figure we would have that many people, but we had a lot of people. I got there and there wasn’t nearly enough sleeping bags, but it didn’t matter because people had already come to drop off blankets and bedding. The City of Chelsea and its people really came through and we were serving food too. The church set up a movie projector showing Christian movies. Everyone just came together quickly. People dropped off food and brought clothes. The Police Department stopped by to keep things safe and keep confrontations from happening. It really worked out great. At one point, I stood there and it was so cool to see these folks sitting in front of the project watching Christian movies in the warmth of the church – the same people who are usually sitting on the benches in Bellingham Square. It was truly a blessing.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino dropped by during the weekend and was able to make sure the City had provided everything it could.
Business such as John’s Pizza donated free pizza to the cause, and Pollo Campero dropped off rice and chicken.
Councillor Roy Avellaneda and Matt Frank dropped by with donations.
In the end, some 42 people were protected from the cold, with a count of at least 100 coming through the doors over the three-day weekend. Most were from Chelsea, but some in crisis were even sent over from Revere.
“I am really proud of everyone that stepped up this past weekend to lend a helping hand to those 42 individuals that needed a place to stay warm out of the record low dangerous cold,” said Chief Kyes. “The leadership of the Pentecostal Church deserves praise and recognition for offering their church on Broadway as a makeshift warming station. Once the doors were open, others offered donations of food, blankets and other amenities. This was a classic example of a community at work for the sake of their fellow neighbor. Chelsea does it right and should be proud.”
Valle said he hopes that the church can be open more regularly for emergency shelter. He also said they have a goal of renovating the kitchen and making showers for the homeless as well. He said that many don’t know it, but the homeless in Chelsea often go many days or weeks without being able to shower. He said the church has a goal of meeting that need on a regular basis, along with giving out food.
And in the next emergency, whether cold weather, record snowfall or extreme heat – Pastor Valle said they will be ready.
“We will absolutely do this again,” he said. “If we see an emergency like this, we’ll be back open. Whatever emergency is coming upon the city, the church will be open.”