CHRISTMAS IN THE SHELTERS

This year, I went to three shelters for Christmas. I went to Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, Pine Street Inn Women’s Inn and Rosie’s Place. I heard that people were having fun at the other shelters around Boston, but I was only interested in the three places I visited.
On Christmas Eve, I went to Harvard Square Homeless Shelter and woke up on Christmas Day at 9 a.m. The shelter, which is run by Harvard University students, stayed open all day. I’ve never been around the shelter for the holidays before, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it stays open every year on Christmas Day.

Guests watched the Christmas Parade on television, played music, had breakfast, lunch and dinner and received gifts. If you need anything, the night staff take care of you. People can do laundry during the day and can receive assistance going out if they need a bus pass to visit family and friends for the day.
When I arrived at Pine Street Inn Women’s Inn, everyone was having fun like they used to before Jennifer Payne came and went. People were relaxing because they didn’t have to worry about their belongings being tossed out or getting a bed for the night.

Anybody who got a bed on Christmas Eve had the same bed on Christmas Day and could even go upstairs and take a nap if they wanted to. Jennifer used to have a DJ come and whip the women into shape for the holiday parties.

This year, on Christmas Day, Jennifer wasn’t around, so there was no DJ to play music, sing and get us to sing and dance. The ladies sat around the piano in the cafeteria area and sang traditional Christmas songs while the previous head of advocacy played the piano. The head of the shelter led all the ladies in a prayer to the tune of “Edelweiss” before we ate our Christmas dinner. We had chicken, stuffing, turkey gravy, salad, cranberry juice, water and chocolate cake for dessert. It was so nice and beautiful to see all the decorations and have so much fun. I left when people started going upstairs to take a short nap.
When I got to Rosie’s Place, the ladies were relaxing in the cafeteria area and music was being played over the speaker system. We ladies were served bacon-wrapped scallops, which is usual for Christmas. We were also served cheese and crackers, vegetables and a dip, spanicopita, hot cocoa, tea, coffee, juice, ice tea, water, soup and salad.

People kept coming in to enjoy the day at Rosie’s with friends and family, which the guests don’t often see. We sat there enjoying each other’s company until Miss Jennie started playing the piano. Miss Jennie is blind and it doesn’t mean a thing to her or us. She plays beautiful music just like a professional musician. Her disability isn’t a hindrance to her life. She plays the piano for everybody at all the holiday gatherings and randomly throughout the year to keep people’s moral up.

Miss Jennie had played Christmas songs in the lead up to Christmas, but it was even more meaningful and special today. Ladies from all sorts of backgrounds came together to sing “Silent Night,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Jingle Bells,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Go Tell it On The Mountain,” “Mary’s Boy Child” and several other songs. For dinner, we had turkey, stuffing, salad, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, string beans and carrots mixed with some kind of weird-looking gravy. I’ve no clue what they had for dessert because I went to the ladies’ room and when I came back, everybody was leaving. Rosie’s Place had given everyone bags of toiletries as gifts. At Pine Street Inn, the women were given underclothes, thermals, hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters, socks and toiletries. Both places always give out the same gifts every year for Christmas.
Usually, for Christmas, people gets coats, boots and other winter gear from The Salvation Army and several other organizations across the state. This makes things easier for the shelters. Money is always tight during the holidays. When people receive things they need from big organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and ABCD, it helps the shelters to spend less money.

Beatrice Bell is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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