Thursday morning, the cooks at the Daniel Pitino Shelter on Walnut Street were making dinner for the community.
The donated smoked turkeys were ready to be carved, while shelter cooks Konnie Dixon and Katelyn Bynum were taking large trays of baked ham with pineapple and dressing out of the kitchen’s large ovens. Containers — vats, really — of macaroni and cheese, sat on the stove, waiting to be served.
How much food would be left by the time lunch was finished was anyone’s guess. The plan was to feed everyone, including extra helpings, until every had their fill.
Thanksgiving dinner is an annual tradition at the Pitino Shelter, although the COVID-19 pandemic changed how it’s done. Meals now are served in to-go trays.
While the meal is important in itself, but said it also gives shelter staff a chance to offer services to people experiencing homelessness.
“Feeding the community is the most important thing we can do,” shelter programs director Cheryl Moore said. “It’s one of my favorite things we do at the shelter.
The shelter feeds Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who wants to eat, and Moore said the staff was expecting between 120 to 150 people to stop by Thursday. Meals in to-go boxes are served to anyone who is hungry every day.
“Anyone can come get a meal. It doesn’t matter what their income it,” Moore said. “It’s open to all.”
While the meals are important by themselves, they also give shelter staff a chance to offer services to people experiencing homelessness.
“We distribute hygiene (items), gloves, hats if they need them, and do outreach to the community,” Moore said. “Even if it’s something as small as giving hats, gloves and hygiene, we want to do that.”
People experiencing homelessness can be reluctant to ask for any kind of help, because of the social stigma placed on the homeless, Moore said. But being homeless is not a character flaw, but the result of circumstances, Moore said.
For many people, at least the possibility of homelessness is closer than they think. In 2019, the U.S. Federal Reserve reported many Americans would experience financial trouble if they where suddenly hit with a $400 bill. A 2019 New York University study listed the top causes of homelessness as a job loss, a sudden illness or accident, or falling into debt, any of which could lead to being evicted.
“No one chooses homelessness,” Moore said. “There are events and circumstances that happen over time ... Everybody’s situation is unique and different.
“I think it takes a lot of courage to come through the doors of a homeless shelter,” Moore said, and said, “homelessness is not a disease or an ailment. It’s something that happened.”
When people come for a meal, the shelter can offer a variety of assistance, from a food pantry and helping getting an ID, to getting people into an apartment, who helping them keep their current residence. For example, the “Rapid Rehousing” program can get a person into an inspected apartment and provide rental and utility payments for up to two years. That’s time, and space, for a family to get back on its feet.
The shelter staff is there to offer the assistance, not to push someone into taking more they are ready for, Moore said.
“We start where they are ready to start,” Moore said.
The shelter has needs — particularly for thee-compartment to-go trays for meals, zipper baggies, sandwich bags, coffee, creamer, sugar and blankets and pillows. Anyone willing to donate can call the shelter at 270-688-9000.
The community can also help by letting area homeless shelters know if there is a person who could use help, Moore said.
“Homelessness is not a one-place issue. It’s not just Pitino or St. Benedict’s ... it’s a community issue,” Moore said. The homeless community could be helped by “all working together for the common goal of helping people, and recognizing, ‘with must a (missed) paycheck or two, I could be standing where you are standing.’ ”
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse