Helping Hands: South Shore Advocacy Group Provides Food and Clothing to Boston’s Homeless

On the Boston Common, 85 homeless people recently received food and clothes thanks to a homeless advocacy group from the South Shore.

The Hingham-based community group Community Offering Practical Encouragement, or C.O.P.E, held its second annual family day to help the homeless of Greater Boston while they endured a cold and rainy April weekend.

From 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. on Sunday April 10, 25 members of C.O.P.E distributed small food bags, sweatshirts and long cotton socks to people who lack a roof over their heads.

One by one, a small army of homeless men and women approached C.O.P.E volunteers for food and clothing.

Joan Bennett said that she started C.O.P. E. one week before Thanksgiving in 2014 with four volunteer mothers who went out to distribute blessing bags to Boston’s homeless individuals.

“I became concerned about the closing of the Long Island shelter and other services on the island,” Bennett said. “A group of personal friends got together to make up blessing bags. We distributed them to the homeless we encountered on the streets of Boston that night.”

Bennett realized this was important to her after she met a young man on the South Shore with a sign asking for a tarp.

“I asked him why [he wanted a tarp],” said Bennett. “He said he sleeps outside, he has no family and suffers mental illness. He is afraid of shelter. I ran into him again a few weeks later. He could barely walk, his feet were swollen and he had infections on both feet. I offered to drive him to the ER but he refused. I was with my sister who just happened to have an emergency backpack in her car, which she got from the red cross. We gave it to Joey who was very grateful. After that meeting, I carried gallon-size bags in my car filled with snacks, socks, gloves and a hat.”

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Bennett elaborated that C.O.P.E has recently increased its number of volunteers. “We sponsored a Boston Family Day today with 25 dedicated volunteers circulating food, clothing and gift food cards to local homeless people.”

Bennett also pointed out that C.O.P.E. is not a 501(c)3 non-profit. “We do not accept cash donations,” she said. “We only accept used clothing, new socks, boots, toiletries, blankets, mylar blankets and food snacks that can make someone comfortable for a night on the streets. We will accept fast-food gift cards and Charlie cards in small denominations.”

Bennett mentioned that C.O.P.E. makes evening runs at several Boston-area locations to help the homeless. “We go to South Station, Downtown Crossing, Mass. Avenue by Boston Medical Center and occasionally near North Station,” she said. “Mass. Avenue is our largest service area in Boston.”

She also highlighted that food cards for McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts allow people to get coffee or something to eat and help them get off the street for a while.

She pointed out that the April 10 Family Day volunteer team was slightly larger than their previous Family Day team. Quincy-C.O.P.E., led by Suzanne Fareri, and Boston’s Project Do Something, with founder Chrissy Joubert and her husband Bob, also volunteered on Family Day.

Bennett remarked that C.O.P.E. may also try to do a late Spring family day in Boston in June.

Suzanne Ferari said: “I come and volunteer a lot with C.O.P.E. of Hingham. I have experienced homelessness myself and set up a second C.O.P.E. locally in Quincy. Joan Bennett contacted me and we now go out twice weekly.”

Marjorie, one of the C.O.P.E volunteers, spoke about volunteering. “This is the second time that I have come to the Boston Common’s Family Day,” she said. “We drive to other Boston locations like South Station. Our largest stop is at the Mass. Avenue McDonald’s near BMC.”

Several homeless people came up to the C.O.P.E. volunteers during Boston Common’s Family Day.

“I heard about C.O.P.E. through Pine Street Inn staff,” Omar Curtis, a homeless Pine Street Inn Shelter resident, said. “C.O.P.E. gave me a sweat shirt and long cotton socks.”

“I have been at C.O.P.E. family days before,” Joe Simmone, a homeless Boston shelter resident, said. “They gave me pants, socks and a sweat shirt.”

Lynda, a low-income Boston resident, said: “C.O.P.E. people are very helpful, supportive and knowledgeable about services.”

Bennett highlighted that helping the homeless is an ongoing need. “I did this because there was and still is a desperate need,” she said. “The homeless need a lot of help.”

Robert Sondak is a vendor and a writer for Spare Change News.

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