Food Programs Hope to Provide Turkey Dinners to Homeless for Thanksgiving

Workers at Cambridge shelters and food programs are hoping to provide all of the city's homeless with a home-cooked turkey dinner this Thanksgiving.

Although several programs in the city provide meals on a daily basis, outreach is being expanded to feed all homeless for the holidays--especially those without beds in shelters.

"Many people don't realize that the toughest days for homeless people are Thanksgiving and Christmas," says Michael S. Roberts, Administrative Coordinator at Bread & Jams on Mass Ave.

Although many shelters provide Thanksgiving meals for their guests, Roberts said, meals must also be provided to homeless people who are not in shelters.

Under a contract with the city of Boston, Bread & Jams runs a van 365 days a year to transport homeless people from the streets and community meal programs to shelters.

On Thursday, the van will shuttle homeless people to Thanksgiving meals in Cambridge and Boston.

Ironically, this outpouring of goodwill comes at a time when many area shelters and food programs are actually understaffed because of the holiday.

One of the biggest problems at Thanksgiving is finding volunteers when so many students go home, says Elana M. Oberstein '97, director of University Lutheran Shelter for Thanksgiving Day.

The University Lutheran Shelter is run entirely by volunteers, 150 of whom are Harvard students.

In anticipation of the holiday, University Lutheran Shelter put notices in Harvard's house newsletters and asked members of the House and Neighborhood Development Program (HAND) to volunteer.

In addition to the traditional turkey dinner, many shelters have special meals for their guests throughout the week.

Shelter, Inc. will provide a special breakfast and Thanksgiving meal for its 21 guests on Thursday as well as a turkey feast at its Women's Drop-In-Center on Wednesday.

And the First Church of Cambridge Congregational will host a "Harvard of Shame" at the capital building in Boston for 150 people tomorrow.

The "Harvard," to which Senator John Kerry and other politicians are invited, is intended to illustrate the effect state legislators actions on welfare issues have had on poor and homeless people, according to Church Director Jim Stewart.

For the most part, Thanksgiving meals are readily available to most of the homeless people in the Cambridge area, Stewart said.

"Thanksgiving is a day when it's not that difficult for homeless person to have a good meal," he said.

At the same time, shelter workers worry about the upcoming holidays.

"The shelter system is running on a 97 percent capacity," Oberstein said. "It's probably going to be a very tough winter."

"Unfortunately, people don't get holidays from being homeless," Roberts said. "All the shelters are trying to do the best for everyone they can."