Chelsea Salvation Army Steps Up to Serve Christmas and Every Day

By Joe Prezioso

Take a walk down Broadway Chelsea and one will see a mix of life.

The poor, the rich, the less fortunate.

One often doesn’t realize, however, that some of the people walking along amidst everyday life are homeless.

In the U.S. there are more than half a million homeless people (according to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress: AHAR) with about 21,237 people being attributed to Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has many shelters around the state that cater to the homeless, and many programs and shelters that offer to assist the homeless in getting back on their feet. Some examples are the Salvation Army, the Pine Street Inn, the Dennis McLaughlin House and YMCA of Greater Boston. With these shelters, and other programs, according to the AHAR, Massachusetts has the third lowest number of unsheltered homeless individuals in the country, 3.6 percent of the total homeless population.

Those in shelters can be families and individuals, and many receive care and help from the state and community during the holidays.

Here in Chelsea, the Salvation Army doesn’t have a shelter like it does in Cambridge, but it does have a meals program and donation program to help those in shelters or those in housing who are in need. The Chelsea Salvation Army also offers help to those who are on the streets, abusing drugs, to stop using.

They are able to make connections for those willing to make change, as there in no shelter at the Chelsea location itself.

“We don’t have any specific programs that are just for homeless. With the community meals program, we don’t ask if they are homeless when they come in to eat, though they could be,” said Capt. Armida Harper of the Salvation Army in Chelsea. “We have food pantry Monday through Friday, 9:30 to noon. People can come in once a month and get food for their families or themselves.”

This Christmas the Salvation Army gave out 400 Christmas dinners to people who singed up to say they needed help.

“We start in November, at Thanksgiving, and we do about 270 of the baskets in East Boston, and for residents of Chelsea and Revere, we have a dinner hosted by the Cheesecake Factory,” Capt. Harper. “In all, about 400 meals are served on Thanksgiving. Then comes Christmas, where we have a toy distribution. We have 378 families here and also any of our families from East Boston and Charlestown, which is again about 275 families, go down to Boston, to the South End and get toys with the rest of the city of Boston.”

People like DeAnn Brown came to the Salvation Army for both her Christmas dinner basket and to receive toys for her children. She sat the Monday before Christmas in the lobby waiting for the bag of donated toys.

“I am glad they do this every year, to help those that need the extra help, I’m grateful,” said Brown.

“Anyone who needed something for Christmas could have signed up to get it,” said Capt. Harper.

Sometimes it’s just a meal that people need to get through the day and the Salvation Amy offers that as well.

“We have food pantry Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to noon,” said Harper. “People can come in once a month and get food for their families or themselves.”

The Salvation Army also offers meals daily to anyone who walks in off the street.

“We have about 10 to 15 senior citizens that come in at noon and eat here and then at 1 p.m. we have anywhere from 20 to 30 people from the community that come in and eat. People that are homeless; that are dealing with addiction. Sometimes we even have families that are eating here at 1 p.m., mothers with their kids, things like that.”

During the community meal last week, there was a mix of addicts, and just people needing a meal to get through the day.

A 26-year-old women known as “Pink” said, “I have been coming to Chelsea for five years,” as she showed obvious signs of intoxication.

Pink considers herself homeless.

She slept in a hallway on the previous night.

“I always go out of my way to find a place to sleep,” she proclaimed as she laughed and ate her meal.

Across the room sat Joey, who had no shortage of words.

“After my dad died, I got sentenced to jail, and the day I got out, March 9, my mom died that same day,” said Joey. “That day I took two Klonapins and then shot up.”

Joey went on to claim that he wished that there was a shelter in Chelsea to keep him off the streets at night, looking for a drink or drug or another fix.

Also in the room was Raquel Rodriguez, a women who was just the focus of a Boston Globe one-year photo essay and feature story that followed her as she dealt with her family and addiction.

“(I) Used to be homeless,” said Rodriguez. “I come here to see my friends. I don’t forget where I came from.”

Rodriguez, who was attached to an oxygen tank, spoke of trying to get clean, relapsing and trying to get ready for Christmas. As she sat, another women did her hair and they laughed. To them, everything was normal.

She was excited that she was going to be a feature in a “big” story by the Globe.

Before the start of the meal service, Debbie Dunn, the cook, stepped out of the kitchen to say a prayer with those in the room.

“You would have to get emotional, when seeing those who have a problem or are going through a hard time,” said Dunn, a 25-year veteran of the Salvation Army. “I needed a little job, and when I came I did breads and deserts. Then the other cook got sick and I took over.”

Dunn was serving a pasta and meat dish that day and knew what each of those in attendance liked and didn’t like. One man didn’t like meat and she made him a separate dish. She offered everyone a donut for dessert and bread rolls as well.

“You have to be a person. I love the people,” said Dunn.

On average the community meal feeds 20 to 30 people a day, according to the Salvation Amy.

“I do know homelessness is an issue, I do know people are sleeping under the Bridge, but because we have been here six months, I couldn’t tell you if it was higher or lower,” said Capt. Harper.

According to AHAR, since 2010 homelessness has decreased by 62,000 people nationwide.

When asked what she would do with the cold winter months approaching, Pink responded, “Maybe I’ll get into a program to better myself.”

Then she turned away to focus on something else.

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