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A room in the inn – and a party

Posted By January 2, 2014 | 12:15 pm | Uncategorized

By Tanya Connor

Coming to the aid of families who found room in the inn was a community affair in Shrewsbury. St. Anne Parish was among those helping 156 homeless people – including more than 100 children and teenagers – celebrate Christmas.
A Christmas party was held for them Dec. 22 at the parish’s Father Smith Center, said JoAnn Keegan, a parishioner who manages the food pantry for St. Anne’s Human Services. (The human services program, operating out of the church basement, also has a thrift store which sells clothing and other items.)
Ms. Keegan said some of the food donations she received provided dinner for the party. And, she said, thanks to St. Anne’s Giving Tree program and other donations, the children got what they requested for Christmas.
The party was planned after RCAP Solutions (Resources for Communities And People) found room in the Days Inn in Shrewsbury for Massachusetts residents needing housing at the end of November. (RCAP Solutions is a Worcester-based, non-profit corporation that helps people with housing and other needs, according to the website
Ms. Keegan said some of the people finding shelter in the Days Inn were homeless because of fire or domestic violence, and others faced homelessness for other reasons.
“We didn’t know they were coming,” she said. “The town didn’t either. It’s been a little hectic down here. … These people are now our clients because they live in Shrewsbury.”
Ms. Keegan said St. Anne’s involvement started when one of the people called her asking for food. Elaine LeBlanc, a parishioner who directs St. Anne’s Human Services, then met with some others who were living in the motel.
A Christmas party was planned and St. Anne’s Human Services rented three buses to transport people from the Days Inn to the parish center, Ms. Keegan said. State Rep. Matthew A. Beaton (R-Shrewsbury) brought a crew to decorate the center and ran the party, which was very well organized, she said. She and Mrs. LeBlanc attended.
Ms. Keegan said Tri State Truck Center Inc. in Shrewsbury donated 40 turkeys with all the fixings, and St. Anne’s Human Services gave half to their regular clients and used the other half for Christmas dinner at the party. What was left of the dinner was sent back to the inn, where those who are homeless have only microwaves to cook in, she said.
“Everybody had fun,” she said of the party. “We had appetizers to dessert – a full meal. … Some of the kids were all dressed up in their party clothes – patent leather shoes, pretty red Christmas dresses. … Santa Claus came by too. He helped with the gifts.”
Sign-up for gifts was done at the motel, and St. Anne’s Giving Tree program provided gifts for the children there and for regular clients, Ms. Keegan said. Gifts were donated by parishioners, other individuals, other churches’ giving trees and businesses.
Some gifts were picked up by St. Anne’s regular clients, she said. Others – more than one apiece for 122 children in at least 80 families – were prepared for the party. Young residents at the inn who didn’t attend the party, and those who had found housing since signing up, also received gifts.
In addition, the Pajama Program ( donated pajamas for the homeless children, Ms. Keegan said. And Girl Scouts provided stockings.
Martha Gach, one of those involved, said Shrewsbury Girl Scouts, including some who meet at St. Anne’s, coordinated a drive for personal care supplies for the families. She said Jo-Ann Bafaro did a wonderful job coordinating the stockings.
Ms. Bafaro, who works with Girl Scouts, said many people donated the stockings, including Girl Scouts from Westborough, a Cadette Troop in Millbury and members of various parishes.
Party-goers were excited and appreciative, Ms. Keegan said.
She knows what it’s like to be in need.
“I actually started here standing in line for food,” she said. “I asked one day if they needed help. Now I run the whole food pantry.” She said she’s worked there 13 years and still gets food, as she is disabled.
When she started going there her son, now an adult, was young, she said.
“He wouldn’t have had Christmas gifts from me if it wasn’t for them – for a few years,” she said.
“We’re all volunteers,” she said of people who work at St. Anne’s Human Services. And some others besides her are clients too.
Regular volunteers include students in high school, college and religious education classes, Scouts, people assigned community service by courts and participants in a Worcester County Sheriff’s Office program, Ms. Keegan said.
She said participants from the Sheriff’s Office program “get more done in one day than I can do in two weeks.” They stock shelves and make up bags of food, handling 5,000-7,000 pounds once a month when “the big load” comes in. “We make them a home-cooked meal,” she said.
Double Tree by Hilton in Westborough and Corridor Nine Area Chamber of Commerce are among companies, parishes and other groups and individuals who collect food each year at Christmas for St. Anne’s, Ms. Keegan said.
“We are very blessed that we have these people donating … to help us with our mission to serve others,” she said.
But while holiday food drives have provided enough for now, and she trusts God will provide for the future, thinking about the ongoing needs worries her. Among those St. Anne’s expects to continue serving are those who’ve found room in the inn.